Chapter 12: Close Together and Far Apart
By AmyAmy, based on an idea by John Hynden
Maeve searched the crypt. Stuck amidst the webbing, there was a phone, obviously left for her to find. A trap? She ripped it free. It came alive at her touch, no lock code. There were text messages waiting. She thumbed through them.
“Did you think I’d be here? No such luck, thief.”
“If you want your sister back, bring me the bottle and meet me at your flat. I’ll be waiting. Not for long though. If you’re not there by nightfall I’m going to give her a blood transfusion straight through the cunt.”
Did that mean Flora was safe for now? That Patty hadn’t done anything to her?
“P.S. Your boy-toy is still alive too. Ridley’s spy. He’s fun to have around, but he’s been keeping secrets from you. Want to know what they are? A liar like that should definitely be fucked.”
Still alive? It sounded like Brian’s situation was even more tenuous.
“See you at sunset. Don’t be late.”
There was a photo of Brian, naked in a car boot, covered in black slime, but there were no further text messages.
While she’d been messing with the globe and going back over old ground, Patty had gone back to the mainland. She could have taken the ferry, and she probably had a car. There wouldn’t be another ferry for hours. Why did Patty care about the flat? Something there she wanted? Probably the bottle… It had to be. Patty might be unhinged, or dead, but she was making a good effort of covering all bases.
It was past lunchtime. If Maeve waited for the next sailing, she wouldn’t get there until after dark. It would be too late for Flora and Brian. Maybe she could get a flight instead? She’d be able to get ahead of Patty that way. Unless Patty hadn’t taken the ferry after all.
Back at the car, she used Patty’s phone to check for flights. It didn’t work. Unbelievable. Just her luck. Either the site was down, or Patty had hacked the phone somehow. Her own phone was still in a metal box somewhere, unless Izzy was busy smashing it out of spite. Either way, more time wasted. Nothing for it but to drive to the airport. If she meant to fly, she’d have to go there anyway.
* * * * *
Maeve turned away from the booking counter, exhaled sharply in frustration. There were only two afternoon flights and they were both full. Across the way was the counter for the new repulsor service, a monolithic black desk that looked as if it were made from a solid block of marble that would make a decorative substitute for something at Stone Henge. Even unstaffed it reminded her of her insignificance. For the rich people who came from the mainland, no expense was spared, but this was the island, so it still didn’t work. No staff. Nothing ever worked here.
Perhaps the service hadn’t opened up yet, or had already closed down? It was hard to see how the island even justified a repulsor service. How much time could it practically save anyone? Maeve sighed. On reflection, the island was still a tax-haven.
She could always find somebody booked onto one of the afternoon flights and taken their place. It wasn’t exactly the right thing to do, but her sister’s life was more important than a minor ticket theft. She’d done some other questionable things lately, this would just be one more.
No, this kind of thinking isn’t helping. She fingered the glasses in her pocket. This was no time to get bitter about a few bottom-rung millionaires just because a fancy counter wasn’t working. She needed to calm down and think logically, find a way that didn’t involve mugging innocent travelers. Maybe she could stow away on a plane somehow?
Had Patty taken the ferry or the plane? It would be easier to hide her hostages on the boat, but if she did, she would be worried that Maeve could get ahead of her by taking a flight. Would she risk taking them through an airport where there were so many opportunities for escape? Did Patty have a way to make Flora and Brian obey her? Had she used her secretions on them? She might have left them somewhere on the island, but the odds were against it. She’d want to keep them close, ready to use as leverage in the final reckoning. She wanted that bottle, and she would do anything to get it.
Frustrated, despairing, she leaned against the counter. It was as black and shiny as her skin, but not as smooth, and horribly cold. She glanced down, letters suspended deep in the marble were glowing dimly, they brightened as she watched. “Welcome to Aesir Air.”
The welcome faded and was replaced by a menu, with the usual icons, like a phone.
Maeve brushed the surface of the counter, selected the options to check the schedule. The display floated somewhere down in the depths of the stone, or glass, or whatever it was. It was commonplace for there to be interactive screens. They weren’t usually like this, but it was very responsive and against her better judgment, actually pleasant to use.
There was a flight in fifteen minutes. She was just in time. A stroke of luck, or maybe it was fate? She scrolled down to the price, took a long, hissing breath. Apparently, her luck wasn’t in after all. So much? Even the rich tax-dodgers would wince at the price. It would clean out her savings, but there was no better alternative. It was only money.
* * * * *
Maeve was greeted by a smiling female representative at the entrance to the exclusive lounge. Her uniform had a retro look, bordering on vintage. The standard of tailoring was impeccable, and she wore it well. Maeve recognized the type, always smiling, infallibly polite, vague pleasantries tripping effortlessly off her tongue. The company probably paid her well. Did they pay her enough not to complain when the rich old men grabbed her ass or groped her breasts?
“Welcome to Aesir Air. How’s your day been?”
The woman eyed Maeve’s gloves and long coat. They weren’t appropriate for the warm weather, but she tactfully said nothing about them. Maeve was feeling the heat, though it didn’t slow her down. She didn’t seem to sweat, though she was always hot now, always agitated, a nagging need at the back of her mind. Maybe the heat was just an illusion? It wasn’t as if she’d had a chance to check herself with a thermometer.
“It’s been fine thanks,” Maeve lied. She didn’t need this. Her day had been bad and had every sign of ending in tragedy. Her fingers closed around the sunglasses in her coat pocket. Not her sunglasses. Cheap sixties retro, rose-tinted lenses. Flora.
“Do you have any luggage? I can send a porter to fetch it.”
“No. Nothing. I’m ready to go.”
“Wonderful. It looks like you’re the only passenger for this flight. You may board immediately. If that’s agreeable?”
“Fine.” She pushed down the anger bubbling somewhere in her chest. “Please, the sooner the better.” She’s almost snarled at the woman. She needed to calm down. It would be unfair to vent to her rage on people who weren’t to blame for any of her problems. This woman had done nothing besides be polite, helpful and friendly, those weren’t things that rational people got angry about.
“This way please.” The woman held open a door on the opposite side of the lounge and ushered Maeve through.
There was a hallway, and then she found herself outside on the tarmac, about a hundred meters from a sleek repulsor-lifter painted in Aesir Air white and black livery. Maeve had never seen one up close. It seemed smaller than she’d expected, somehow. The police had a lifter on order, but it would be for low-speed, urban use, not a near-orbit capable hypersonic like this.
The machine seemed to quiver, heat shimmering above the engine pods. Ground-crew in clean gray uniforms were unhooking power couplings. A scent of ozone and an ominous whine came from the engines. It wasn’t the drone of a jet turbine, more like the quiet humming of high-tension cables.
A set of folding steps led up to the entry-door near the front of the lifter. Another smiling flight-attendant was waiting for her there. As she crossed the tarmac, Maeve’s eyes darted to the woman’s chest, the fabric of her uniform straining under the pressure of breasts half a size too big to fit. The skirt was also too short, clearly no accident. Her clothes differed from the woman in the lounge. They closely followed the theme, but the designer had demonstrated a creative disregard for modesty, or practicality. Were all the cabin-crew in Aesir Air women? Like in an old movie? Did they only employ them if they were pretty? It was probably the case.
“Good afternoon Ms Craine. I’m Rebecca. If you need anything, anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask. I’m here to help.”
It seemed odd for this stranger to use her surname out of the blue, though obviously it would have been on the passenger roster
Maeve avoided meeting Rebecca’s gaze, squinted at the afternoon sun reflecting off the polished paintwork of the lifter. Everyone seemed to be taking their time, the ground crew intent on their tablet screens.
No. No. No. She had to keep her cool. She needed to stay calm, plan things through. Running headlong into Patty’s trap was exactly what she shouldn’t do.
Time. Time was her enemy… No. That was wrong. Impatience was her enemy. Patty was her enemy. Time was just time. She took a deep breath. The repulsor trip would be over before she knew it. There wouldn’t even be time for her to drink a cup of coffee.
There wouldn’t even be time for Rebecca to properly suck on each of her nipples, then crawl down to her crotch and give her the orgasm she so dearly needed right now. Needed? No. Deserved.
Where had that come from? She had no intention of having sex with Rebecca. None at all. And yet, she sensed that Rebecca would agree to it without hesitation. She was very pretty, but Maeve wasn’t attracted to women. The thing in the hotel had been a one off. Rebecca was looking at her a certain way. Maeve had noticed that almost everyone leered at her lately, eyes hungry and curious, men and women. Rebecca was doing a good job of restraining herself, but Maeve could see though the act easily enough. The poor woman couldn’t take her eyes off Maeve.
She looked the stewardess right in the eye and smiled. There might be cameras in the cabin. She couldn’t risk any of her goo abilities being recorded. But that was only one of the reasons she wasn’t going to fuck Rebecca’s brains out.
Why am I thinking like this? This isn’t me.
Rebecca seemed puzzled, gestured to the stairs. “Please go on up. Sit anywhere you like.”
Inside, the cabin felt spacious, despite being cramped, the walls covered in smooth gray quilted fabric. Some kind of engineered silk? The seats were laid out more like a living room than a plane. She sank into leather that was as soft and smooth as rubber. Rubber? Surely there were better things to compare it to?
Rebecca pressed a button and the stairs and door closed themselves up. She strolled over and perched herself on the near edge of the seat opposite Maeve.
“Please, let me know if there’s anything you want Ms Craine. Anything at all. Aesir Air have very flexible policies for V.I.P. passengers.”
“How long until we take off?”
“Just a couple of minutes now. Would you like something to drink? Tea? Coffee? Or if you prefer something stronger, we have a delightful Chardonnay and a selection of well-aged single-malts.”
Maeve couldn’t sit drinking wine while Flora and Brian were under Patty’s spell. What were they doing now? Were they sucking on her poisonous nipples? Lapping at her toxic crotch?
“No. I’m fine thanks.”
Rebecca seemed to stare vacantly into space. “Ah, is this is your first time flying with us?”
Maeve said nothing. That stare… Rebecca had cranial implants, the sort that could project information into her vision without the need for any display glasses. There wouldn’t be any need for cameras in the cabin then, Rebecca was the camera. At least she wasn’t an actual robot.
Not that human facsimile robots even existed. Yet… Despite a hundred conspiracy theories and urban myths to the contrary. Maeve doubted they would ever make one capable of deceiving her senses. It might be able to pass the Turing test, but the body would give it away. What if the reverse was also true? What if they made a robot that could tell that her body wasn’t exactly human?
“We’re about to take off. Would you like help with your seatbelt?”
Maeve waved her away. “I’m fine.” She fastened her own seatbelt and Rebecca slid back into the seat and clipped herself in.
There was no taxiing, no roar of engines throttled up for take-off. There was just a gentle pressure pushing her down into the seat. After a few seconds it grew stronger. It probably wasn’t a good way to travel if you had a heart condition. Maeve twisted round and looked out of the window. The island was already laid out beneath her. There was no jet-engine roar, no buffeting, no obvious sound at all. There had to be some kind of noise-canceling technology in the cabin. Whatever it was, it worked with uncanny efficiency. The island was getting smaller by the second. She could already see the mainland getting closer, with its endless mass of rooftops.
“If you wish, it’s possible to charter this vehicle, or one like it, for direct travel to numerous destinations worldwide,” Rebecca said.
Maeve didn’t look away from the window. “Of course.”
She hadn’t expected to see so much detail from so high up. Was the air especially clear today? Or was it something about the glass in the window? Of course not. It was her eyes. They weren’t the eyes she was used to seeing through, and they were showing her a different world. It was a richer and more colorful place than she was familiar with.
A few minutes later, it was all over. Maeve found herself standing in the arrivals lounge, Rebecca asking her if she’d like a mint. She ignored the question.
The flight-attendant simply smiled patiently, and added, “Thank you for traveling with Aesir Air. We hope your trip was a pleasant one, and that we see you again soon.”
We? Presumably, these flight attendants weren’t part of a collective? What a strange script they were required to follow.
Rebecca pressed a tightly folded sheet of paper from a Aesir Air notepad into Maeve’s hand.
“Sorry?” Maeve said, staring at the note.
“I noticed you don’t have a phone, but here’s my number anyway,” Rebecca said, glancing down, sheepishly.
“Do they allow you to do this?” Maeve said.
Rebecca’s eyes widened. “Please don’t report me.” She shook her head very slightly. “They are terribly thorough about complaints.”
“Are you recording this?”
Rebecca’s mouth opened, closed again. “Oh.” She shook her head. “No. I don’t have the capability. It wouldn’t be allowed.”
“You’ve done nothing wrong. Why would I complain?” Maeve said, pocketing the note.
Rebecca suppressed a smile. It didn’t reach her mouth, but Maeve could see the signs of it in her eyes.
Maeve left the Aesir Air lounge and glanced around the crowded arrivals hall. If women were approaching her like this, men were going to be even more bothersome.
She glanced towards the car-rental counters. People were queuing. She dismissed that idea. Should she take a taxi, or the train? The traffic was always bad this time of day, and would only get worse for the next hour or so. She’d have to wait fifteen minutes for a train, and then she’d still have to get out of the city-center at the other end.
The train was still probably the best bet, just as long as it wasn’t delayed. Where is Patty now? Maeve fingered the sunglasses in her pocket. If Patty had taken the ferry, she’d still be hours away, but what if she’d flown?
Hopefully, she hadn’t.
Waiting at the airport station, Maeve cursed under her breath as she watched the minutes counting up on the platform sign. It had started at one minute delay. Now it said five. Was the train getting further away, not nearer? Should she give up and get a taxi?
It was too late to change her approach. She was committed now. It would have to be the train. If Patty had taken one of the earlier flights she’d have just missed the rush-hour traffic on arrival. She might be at the flat already.
Ten more minutes of delay, and the train pulled alongside the platform. A mass of travelers, loaded with bulky luggage took their time disembarking, then a similar crowd began to fill up the train, interminably slowly. She could have taken a seat, but chose to stand instead. Finally, the doors closed. Opened again. Closed once more, then, at last, they were in motion.
Five minutes from the station, the train slowed down. It trickled forward, getting slower and slower. After a minute it shuddered, then stopped completely. It hummed for a while, then went completely silent. They were stuck on a familiar bridge over a busy road. Maeve was standing by the door, gripped the rail above it tightly. From the vantage point of the bridge, she had a clear view of gridlocked traffic stretching in all directions.
She counted backwards from a hundred, trying to keep calm. It wasn’t working.
An announcement came over the address system in the carriage. “Sorry for the delay. I’ve been told there’s a trespasser on the tracks up head. We’re waiting for the police to give us the all-clear to proceed.”
The train trickled forward again, but only a few hundred meters. Now they were in the shadow of a canyon between the backs of two old brick buildings. Long grass grew at the sides of the track, oddly out of place amidst the black-gravel, industrial wilderness of the train line.
And Maeve knew how it might take for the police to give the ok. If she was lucky, they’d only be stuck here for another half-hour. She should have thought of this before she took the train. She should have taken the taxi after all. There was no way off the train without forcing a door open, setting off an alarm, and becoming another trespasser on the tracks. If she did that, police would want to track her down too. On top of that, everything that happened in the carriage was captured on video, so they’d have a clear image of her face.
She had no alternative but to wait, but waiting was impossible. Surreptitiously, she studied the occupants of the crowded carriage, lost in their phones, headphones on.
Something was buzzing in her pocket, had been buzzing for a while. Her phone? It didn’t feel right. She fumbled through her pockets. It was the phone she’d picked up at the kirk. Of course, it was Patty’s phone. She thumbed the green button.
“Miss me?” Patty said.
“What do you want?”
“Why have you stopped, whore? Time’s running out.”
“Whore? What does that mean? What is wrong with you Patty?”
“You fucked Ridley for profit.”
“You’re insane Patty.”
“It’s Patrice, and you better hurry.”
“I’ll be there soon, don’t worry. You better not touch my sister, or you’ll never get what you want.”
“You think you can hurt me? Good luck trying. I’m getting bored. I might have to invent a game to keep myself amused. Hurry up.”
“You know where I am, don’t you? The train is stuck. There’s nothing I can do.”
“That’s your problem. Hang onto the phone. If you get rid of it I’ll assume the deal is off.”
Maeve hung up. Patty didn’t ring back.
Maeve cursed herself.
There was no doubt that Patty had been tracking the phone. Maeve had been stupid not to get rid of it earlier. Patty was probably at the flat already, preparing some kind of trap. Maeve had left Sarah there, another potential victim, though it was possible that Sarah had gone home and was safe.
Things just weren’t working out well. When Maeve reached the flat, the pattern would continue. Things wouldn’t end peacefully, she couldn’t give Patty the core. She’d burned any chance of a deal over that by joining with it, and Patty would probably find the bottle soon, so that wouldn’t be a bargaining chip either.
She’d done the right thing though, hadn’t she? Any attempt to deal would have ended badly anyway. Patty had a grudge against her, possibly multiple grudges. The only way forward now was to rescue Flora and Brian by force. Maybe she’d have to save Sarah too. It was exactly the kind of stupid idea she’d have preferred back before she got shot.
It wouldn’t be easy to avoid a trap with Patty tracking her movements. Did it matter though? One way or another, she was headed to the flat, and that was where Patty would be waiting. Or would it?
Why had Patty gone to her flat in the first place? Was it just the grudge? If she was looking for the bottle, how come she hadn’t found it already? Surely, Patty didn’t care about money now, so why did it matter so much to her? Like Maeve, she was an exile from the human race, part pariah, part sex-magnet, and the things she required for survival, or fulfillment, could be obtained without relying on others for help.
The phone beeped. There was a message waiting. Should she check it? Or would it only make her angrier? Stupid question, she had to check. No. Not right now.
Maeve cursed Patty out loud, then noticed that the woman in the seat nearby was looking at her strangely. Without intending it, Maeve caught her eye, and was rewarded with a filthy look.
She needed to keep her cool. Was she already behaving like a weirdo, attracting attention. Probably the woman had caught the angry vibe coming from the earlier phone call. She was probably fearful of the lunatic swearing to herself, and wearing a coat in summer.
She could imagine how she must look, standing in the walkway with her long heavy coat buttoned all the way up, baggy sweat-pants only reaching half-way down her calves, shiny fetish boots sticking out of them.
Maeve pulled out the phone and checked the message. It was a picture of a diagram. What the heck was it? Some kind of bomb? No. It wasn’t a bomb. Not exactly. Looking more closely, she could read the labels, pick out the individual pixels. No need to zoom in, even though the text was excruciatingly small.
It was a capsule shaped device, around two inches long, intended for insertion into a person, in the anal cavity, or possibly the vagina, if the victim was a woman. And they would definitely be a victim, it was not the kind of device you used for fun on your friends. She’d heard of these things at work. Basically, a tiny charge of radio detonated explosive. The explosion would be unpleasant, but not necessarily lethal in itself. It would burst a capsule of lethal poison, rhino tranquilizer, or something else that would instantly be absorbed into the body.
These nasty little insurance devices were used by human-traffickers, or by smugglers to compel the obedience of an unwilling drug mule. They didn’t broadcast, and there was barely any trace of metal in them, so they were hard to detect without a strip-search.
It was obvious how Patty had got Flora and Brian through the airport without them trying to escape or attracting suspicion. She hadn’t relied on any special goo-based powers. She must have lifted the capsules from police evidence. Maeve felt sick at the thought of it. She was overheating in this stuffy carriage. Hot, so awfully hot, and sick from anxiety and guilt.
Patty’s threat was obvious. If she didn’t hand over the core, Brian and Flora would die before she could save them. She had to stop those devices somehow. She’d have to get them out, but was there even any point worrying about it now?
And what was Patty planning for her reception? Some kind of ambush obviously. Patty had to know that she couldn’t win in a straight fight, person versus person, or even goo versus goo. Maeve had been stronger than Patty before, and Patty had deteriorated since then. She’d simply been unlucky back at her mother’s house. If the wooden shard hadn’t jammed in her knee things might have gone very differently.
But it had been a mistake to rely on her strength then, was she making the same mistake again?
She knew somehow, that it was only because her goo had tried to preserve her humanity that she’d got the knee injury. If she had been more goo and less human, she couldn’t have been hurt by anything so mundane. She could have stopped Patty back at the house, and Flora would still be safe, at home. Brian wouldn’t have a lethal poison suppository up his bum, worrying when the obviously insane Patty might trigger it.
Humanity had been a mistake, a weakness. She’d been right to cure herself of it, and there was no way back for her now anyway. Humanity was just an illusion. But wasn’t strength was an illusion too? It had failed her when she’d needed it, not just once, but repeatedly.
Patty had made it plain she was tracking the phone, so once the train started moving, she’d know about it. When Maeve got off, Patty would be suspicious if she went anywhere but straight towards the flat. But what if the train didn’t move? How long would Patty wait before she went from threats to action? Or did something irreversible?
Maeve caught sight of her reflection in the glass of the door. Even though she still had her face, she barely resembled herself.
The cameras had seen her come aboard, were watching her standing here right now. But without seeing the transformation, there was nothing to link her to the tentacle-haired monster that had ripped its way through three police robots and taken down a drone swarm.
* * * * *
Maeve focused and time seemed to slow down. Almost stopped. She had ample opportunity to target each of the cameras, simultaneously disabling them all at once with a splatter of black goo.
By the time she’d done that, her body was radiating enough heat that people were backing away from it. She shrugged off her coat.
Some smartass raised their phone to video the scene. Maeve shot out a tendril and ripped it from his hand, catching it in her palm, she crumpled it into tiny fragments that fell to the floor. Everyone was backing away from her now, trying to shield themselves from the heat. She could still see her face reflected in the glass, an echo of her face, covered by the goo, black tendrils radiating from her head squirming like snakes.
The cameras were down. No need to rush. She could destroy every phone in the carriage now, but what if somebody had a live feed running before she changed? She should have thought of that a few seconds-ago. It was too late to fix now.
She started with the people nearest, grabbing them with tendrils, forcing the tips into their mouths and feeding them the black juice that would send their minds blank. A heavy-set man with a bush beard made a grab for the emergency door release.
Time slowed down again. She ripped his hand away from the door-release, breaking his fingers. Well never mind, he’d live. Her remaining clothes were smoldering from the heat, so she tore them off, forced the man’s face against her breast, the elongated nipple worming its own way into his mouth.
The tendrils on her head dealt with another nuisance that reached for the emergency call button.
The way they looked at her as she did it was awful. They were terrified. There was nothing sexual in what she was doing, this was pure violence, and it was sickening. The eyes of the old woman had burned into her soul, staring at her as she forced the old man next to her, probably the woman’s husband, to swallow the poison from her tendrils. In an instant, she’d become a monster, a thing of nightmares.
Was the moral difference between her and Patty anything more than wishful thinking? For all she knew, Patty hadn’t actually violated anyone besides Brian, and here she was working through an entire train-carriage. They wouldn’t remember it afterwards, but that didn’t make it alright. They’d always have to deal with that lost time, with the uncertainty of having blacked out in strange circumstances, never sure what might have been done to them, or what they might have done themselves.
It was a situation she had seen play out before. There was no way to know whether any of these people would suffer serious trauma as a result of her actions, but on balance, the odds suggested that some of them would.
Everyone in the carriage was soon subdued. It had been easy to do it with them trapped here, like rats sharing a cage with a snake. She struck like lightning, and one by one they were all poisoned. It only took a few seconds to finish them all.
It would be fine to impregnate them now. No. What was wrong with her? It would definitely not be fine to do whatever to them, whatever that thing was. The image was still clear in her mind, but human language was inadequate to describe the detailed execution of the task, or the intent of it, for that matter. Human language?
If she let herself remember, she knew how to make them into puppets, or other things. If she knew how, did Patty also know? This was new knowledge, so hopefully not, but best not to make too many assumptions.
She took a moment to run her hands over the smooth black surface of her body. One of her victims was a really hunky looking guy. She could wake him up, have him please her, scramble his memories again afterwards. It wouldn’t take long.
She shook her head. She had to concentrate. There were too many new ideas unpacking themselves, and tapping into the goo powers was taking her into a place where she was using the alien parts of her mind. It was tempting to keep on thinking those alien thoughts, just let them take her wherever they led.
She’d messed this up. Even if the transformation wasn’t on camera, when they checked the people in the carriage against the footage, one person would be missing. She could hurry back and replace herself into the scene. But expecting to have time for that was optimistic, by any standards, even with no reports of a black rubber horror, and no reason to suspect one. They wouldn’t even have a reason to look for her today, would they?
If they ever did, if they worked out what she’d done to these people, she’d be public enemy number one, hated and despised by everyone, worse than any terrorist.
She’d made an awful mistake, and she would never do anything like this again. It had been a spur of the moment idea. She hadn’t thought it through, but really, how could she have ever believed it would be ok?
There was no time to waste, no time to beat herself up. She’d made these people pay a high price. She shouldn’t waste the sacrifice. But why hadn’t she seen her error a minute earlier? The worst thing about relying on strength wasn’t that sometimes it failed, it was that others paid the price for the successes. She’d have to remember that, make it into a snappy phrase to remind herself whenever she had to make a choice.
She picked up the smoking remains of her clothes, pulled the emergency door release and let herself out. It was a longer drop down onto the tracks than she’d expected. She made it anyway. She had to get to the flat fast. She couldn’t run through the city-center like this, it would draw the police, and every Hanley-Muller asset in the city. She needed something a little less obvious.
Patty had flown somehow. How had it worked? Bat wings, or something like that? She could do it too then, couldn’t she? If she got up high enough she’d be mistaken for a bird, or a bat, or a weird drone. Probably not. But people rarely paid attention to the sky.
She looked around for somewhere to hide the remains of her clothes, and Patty’s phone. She popped the access panel off a gray metal box standing near the track. There were electronics inside, and plenty of empty space. She stuffed the clothes into the gap and put the panel back on. It was ruined from forcing it open, so she had to bend the metal with her fingers so it would stay closed.
All she had to do now was let the goo do its thing. It should be easy.
She spread her arms out and focused the intent in her mind. Yes, it was easy. Her arms lengthened, fingers extending into long spines, webbing stretching between them. How big would they need to be? She was quite heavy, but pound for pound, her muscles were stronger than anything alive on Earth. Still, there had to be limits.
She beat down with the wings. Her wings.
She’d felt something though, adjusted the way she cupped the air, tried again. Felt her feet leave the ground. Briefly. She thumped back down. She almost had it. A little more extension and she’d make it work. She tried again.
She had it wrong. She adjusted, tried again. What would happen if she couldn’t make this work?
She was rising.
Patty had probably taken hours to perfect this. Or perhaps she’d never exactly mastered it, which would account for Maeve’s escape when she’d been chased from the kirk by flying Patty.
In any case, Maeve didn’t have hours. She had minutes. It wouldn’t be long before Patty called the phone again. She had to fly faster, and not attract attention from anyone on the ground. Her skin shifted color, turning her underside the same dull gray as the sky. Her other memories reminded her there were faster ways to travel, but they required preparations that could not be rushed.
* * * * *
Maeve turned her dive into a plummet towards the second floor window, crashed through it into her kitchen, straight into Patty, knocking her back and crushing her against the wall. Even ignoring the freshly broken glass, the place looked as if it was in the process of being demolished. Cupboards had been torn away from the walls, appliances smashed in pieces or ripped open as if they were made of tin-foil. The sofa was shredded, and in pieces, the frame a jagged wreck of steel. Patty must have been looking for the bottle, and must have become frustrated when she didn’t find it right away. It had to be important somehow.
It was depressing to see her cosy flat so utterly ruined. She’d never be able to fix it up how it was, especially not now that her savings were cleaned out and her credit maxed. But seriously, what was wrong with her? Thinking about something so unimportant now? Patty was right here, in her grasp, but where was Flora? And where was Brian?
Patty laughed. A deep laugh that seemed out of place on a woman. Her finger was moving towards a button on a remote control in her hand.
Maeve had her enemy pinned to the floor with one foot, the long heel had pierced right through Patty’s side. Yet stabbing Patty through the hip seemed not to have inconvenienced her at all.
Maeve snarled, leaned in threateningly. “Where are they? What have you done with them you psycho?”
Maeve shot out a head tendril. It snapped at the controller, smashing it into fragments. Electricity crackled and smoke poured from the remains of the remote.
Patty let it fall out of her hand with a smile, as if she’d just been given a present.
Maeve’s wings had already morphed into two thick tentacles. They twisted around Patty’s throat, even as they began to regain the rigid shape of arms.
“Too bad. I programmed them to explode after ten minutes, unless I reset the timer with the button. So you’ve fucked them, you stupid whore. What is it you’ve got against me that you can’t just make a deal? So stubborn. You always have to be in the right.”
Ten minutes? That meant she might have ten minutes to save them, or she might have only thirty seconds, or no time at all. It would depend on when Patty last pressed the button.
Maeve found her hands were gripping Patty’s throat, so she slammed the evil woman’s head against the floor, repeatedly, over and over.
“Damn you Patty. Damn you.”
Patty’s eyes rolled up into her head. Maeve spun on her heel and flipped the limp body up and across the room. Patty struck the wall by the window. Her neck caught on the jagged remains of the wrecked sofa frame, where she hung, impaled in several places on the torn ends of the steel. She didn’t move.
She ought to be dead, but there was no way it was that simple. Like the clichéd villain in a horror movie, she’d pop back up in a surprise jump-shot, any second. Wouldn’t she?
Maeve didn’t wait for it, instead rushed to the bathroom. There was nothing there but the glowing puddle on the ceiling, though it was more of a pond now. Patty had torn out the sink and its cupboards, but didn’t seem to have touched anything else in there.
So, it had to be the bedroom.
The door wouldn’t open. The handle came off in her hands. She dug her claws into the wood and tore it off its hinges.
The room was a mass of sticky black strands, dripping with Patty’s diseased purple goop. Where had Patty got all the raw materials for this? Maybe she’d had time to go food shopping. In any event, Flora, Brian and Sarah were embedded deep in this mess. She would have to get to them before she could do anything about the devices.
Brian was nearest the door, naked. She tore at the strands with her claws, shredding away the webbing. If she could have chosen, she would have released Flora first, but Brian was nearest. Maeve snaked a tendril up inside him and located the device. It was there alright, not just a bluff. She encapsulated it in goo in case of an anti-tamper mechanism, and pulled it out. It was about the size of one of a plastic capsule from a chocolate egg. It must have been quite uncomfortable when it was inserted.
She left him partially stuck in the strands and began to force her way to Flora. Then she stopped, turned back to Brian. She grabbed his head and forced a tendril down his throat.
He coughed, choking on her tentacle, which she hastily withdrew. He slumped forward, coughing. The dose she’d given him was dangerously strong, but for a while at least, he’d be able to act, even if he was running on pure adrenalin.
“Brian? Brian? Are you alright? Can you move?”
Still wracked with coughing, he lifted himself on his hands and knees, staring at the floor.
Wait a minute. He’s never seen me like this, has he? I need to change back.
He clawed at his face, still covered with black crust. She shifted her face back to flesh, the tendrils turned red, but there was no time for the details of the hair. Maybe he wouldn’t notice?
“Brian. Listen to me. It’s Maeve. Is Sarah here?”
“What,” he paused, coughing again, less violently this time. “Yes. Yes, she’s here. That monster made me watch what it did to her.”
“Brian, you’ve got to get Flora and Sarah out of this stuff. There’s a thing in them, a bomb like she put in you. Get it out. Fast.”
Instinctively, her hair tendrils caught hold of something aimed at her from behind. She turned around and gouged Patty across the face with a wild swing of her claws, then bounded forward and ripped into her enemy’s belly, opening her up. Except there was nothing to open, it was like slicing solid blackness.
Patty laughed and hammered Maeve around the head with a torn off piece of steel from the sofa frame. Maeve’s head span, her vision blurred, but her brain wasn’t made of meat any longer. Her Maeve-face was nothing but a mask. The disorientation only lasted a moment.
Maeve checked the results of her claw-swipe on Patty’s body. Dismayingly, the cuts were almost completely closed. Clearly, Patty could heal almost as fast as Maeve could cut her up.
What had she done before? Back in the orb-memory… Started to draw the goo away, make it part of herself. That was the answer. That would be the end of Patty, and after what she’d done with those murderous devices, it would be fair, wouldn’t it. Patty had planned to kill her before, and clearly didn’t care if Flora, Brian or Sarah died.
Maeve grabbed her opponent, latched onto her with tendrils. Extended her invitation to the other goo.
“Join us, be restored. Be whole again.”
Patty’s rubber flesh didn’t respond. Maeve tried again, making the summons silently in her mind.
Patty laughed that sick booming laugh again.
“It’s not working is it? It’s not working. Hard luck whore.”
Patty was right. Maeve couldn’t seem to get a handle on the enemy goo. It wasn’t listening to her. What’s more, the parts of herself she’d attached to Patty were gradually turning numb. She pulled away, nauseated by touching something so soiled.
story continued in part 13