Together we are Stronger

by AmyAmy

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© Copyright 2018 - AmyAmy - Used by permission. All rights are retained by the author. This work may not be reproduced for profit or without this attribution.

Storycodes: Solo-F+; MM+; police; station; locker; drugs; kidnap; threat; blackmail; hospital; recovery; memories; rubber; bond; island; discovery; blob; mast; denial; emb; cons/nc; X

Story continued from Part 3

Chapter 4: Old Bonds
By AmyAmy, based on an idea by John Hynden

At the division headquarters Patrice parked her car around the back, where it would be a while before people noticed it had been abandoned. She left the keys in the ignition, she wouldn’t be able to use it again. He almost certainly had a tracker on it, and even if he didn’t, he might be able to get data from the cameras, or have his own drones spot it.

She could call a taxi from here, then take a bus. But more important, she could do something about her Maeve Craine problem.

The division headquarters was still ticking over. There were always things going on twenty-four-seven. Somewhere, uniformed officers would be having a friendly chat with petty thieves they’d picked up, or scaring the wits out of some dumb student who’d had too much to drink. But the main office ought to be quiet, with luck, completely deserted.

She was cleared for entry. The only way to get to evidence was to go through the office. She let herself in, relieved that her access still worked, though of course there was no reason at all to suppose it wouldn’t.

There was a quiet clattering of fingers on a keyboard. At the far end of the large open room, somebody was working on… whatever it was that real police worked on. Reports or something? For all she knew they were playing video games. It didn’t matter, what mattered was that there were partitions, and nobody had a clear line of sight to Maeve’s desk.

The office had a hot-desk policy, but Maeve was one of those people who had simply occupied a desk of her own with bold impunity, claiming it in perpetuity. Whatever her failings, she was a D.I., and nobody else in the office was prepared to kick up a stink. Her photo-frames, dirty coffee-mugs, unopened mail, and broken headphones were littered across the desktop. Her casual jacket hung over the back of the chair. A gray-wool trouser-suit hung from the cubicle partition, still in its dry-cleaner’s bag.

Unfortunately, somebody had removed her computer. Still, the unopened letters might reveal something.

Patrice opened each item, skimmed the contents. A gas bill. A reminder for an optician’s appointment. Odd, Maeve didn’t wear glasses. Perhaps contacts? The final envelope was a credit-card statement for a card that Maeve didn’t seem to use. Patrice took the statement, and left the other items. It would be more than enough, she could find Maeve’s house, and she could use that card number online. There were certain sites that didn’t require the check-digits.

She fished through her handbag and found the locker key. Bright, silver, almost new, the sharp edges not worn down. She wasn’t supposed to have it. The lockers were for real police who used the hot-desks, and Patrice was a contractor, and besides that, she had a dedicated space in the evidence store.

She’d seen the key, abandoned in a locker-door, the day Sarah left. The locker had been empty apart from a single stale bread-bun, hard as a stone. At the time she hadn’t known why she’d taken the key. It had been a compulsion. Just the sort of compulsion that had got her into trouble in the past, but this time it would work out to her benefit.

She pushed the ancient bottle containing the brown liquid to the back of the locker, stuffed a dirty towel from Maeve’s desk drawer in front of it, and locked it up. She put the key on her keyring, an ordinary tree in a forest of a dozen keys, only half of which she remembered the use of.

Nice and safe. He would never think to look for the bottle inside divisional headquarters, and certainly never check in that locker. He might turn the evidence store upside down looking for it, but he wouldn’t find it. It wouldn’t be easy to search here either, even with his connections. If he was police, as she suspected, he’d think that looking at these lockers was pointless, because she didn’t have one.

For whatever reason, they were sturdy, with fancy deadlocks, like big safe-deposit boxes. If he sent somebody to break them all open as part of a search, it would take time, and make an awful lot of noise. It would be an act of last resort.

She still had the watered-down sample in her bag. It might not be so bad if she used it diluted, she’d probably be able to handle it like that, especially if she only took a drop. Just a taste. Maybe, it would do something to fill the aching hole in her heart.

* * * * *

Keating held the phone at arm’s length, gripped like a snake that might attack. He thumbed the speaker button and put it on the table next to the centrifuge.

“I’m here,” he said.

“Good,” said the computer voice. It was him. Nobody else had the number of the phone, so it was hardly a surprise.

“Where’s this tart with the sample?”

“On the run.”

Keating laughed. “Unlucky.”

“Predictable. She was going to do it sooner or later. I have some insurance.”

“So, I can expect this sample, when?”

“It’s your job to collect the insurance. Her sister. She was just warned, told to run.”

“Too late then.”

“No. It’s not. She won’t run. She’ll hesitate. She won’t move fast enough, if she moves at all.”

“Here’s what I know about kidnapping girls. Fuck all. And as for these idiots working for me, I wouldn’t trust them to fuck a sheep. You need to send someone who knows how to do the bloody job.”

“Keep calm. It’s in hand, got some people onto it already. But I don’t want those blokes knowing where you’re working, so you’re going to meet them and take her off their hands.”

“I am eh? That’s nice.” Which it wasn’t.

This arsehole was getting too demanding. The money was good, but things were heating up with the cops. Raided, then raided again. They obviously didn’t have a face, but at this rate it might only be a matter of time, and then he’d be fucked. The AI’s would spot him on a camera somewhere, send drones, and he’d be lucky to get away without being arrested. That kind of luck would run out fast.

“They’ll be waiting round the back of Deansgate station. You know the spot we’ve used before.”

“By the flats? Right.” It was a camera dead-zone, a spot they’d used several times before. The nearby flats were serviced, and had as much out of town traffic as a hotel.

“I told this stupid cunt that her sister would suffer the consequences if she let me down. But I want to make sure she believes there’s something worth rescuing. Start easy. No damage to start with. Once we’ve got the sample back, and the trouble-maker in hand, you can go to town on them both, make an example.”

“Yeah. I get it. Once they’ve been caught I know how to handle them.”

“Wait. I’ll arrange to send you a new implant. You can put it in the sister while big-sis watches. That’ll show the cunt.”

“This sister, is she going to be any use as a host?”

“How the fuck do I know. I don’t care. Put it in her anyway. It’s worth it to make the point. If we get that bottle I’ll be feeling generous.”

“If you say so.”

“How’s production? Getting back on track?”

“I’m fucking exhausted, but yeah. Pink’s back on full.”

* * * * *

Brian stood outside Ridley’s office door. The light was on, so Ridley was probably in there, working late. He hesitated. Maybe there was no need to bother him over Maeve’s computer? On the other hand, perhaps he knew something about her condition.

He knocked, and after a moment’s pause, Ridley’s voice answered, “Enter.”

Brian stepped inside and closed the door behind him.

Ridley looked up from his laptop. The screen cast a weird blue glow under his chin. “Ah, Brian. Just the man,” he said.

“Just the man?”

“I wanted to talk to you. I went to see Maeve earlier.”

Brian edged closer. “How is she?”

“Woozy, full of painkillers, but otherwise fine. They gave her some kind of nanotech treatment for the bleeding. She’ll be out in twenty-four hours.”

“Aren’t those kind of injuries extremely dangerous?”

“They used to be. We used to see people die from blows to the back of the head all the time. Not any longer, fortunately.”

“How long before she’s fit?”

Ridley closed the laptop, the lid clicked shut. “They didn’t tell me that. I wanted information on the shooting, in case there was something I needed to act on right away.”

“But in your opinion?”

“It’s going to be several weeks. Physically, I think she might be fine in a week, but there’ll need to be counseling, psych-evaluations, reviews, and possibly an investigation.”

“You mean an investigation into her?”

“Sorry to say. Yes.”

“That’s not absurd. Unfair. She was the one who got shot.”

“I think it will be a formality, but it has to be seen to be done.”

“Somebody took her computer. I went to get it, and it was missing. Please tell me it was you?”

Ridley rubbed his face with his hands. “God, I’m an idiot. I should have secured it immediately. It never occurred to me that she’d left the damn thing lying about. There’s no chance she has it somewhere safe is there?”

“No. I always nagged her about it.”

“Well, it’s encrypted. They probably can’t get anything off there, but you never know.”

“Most of her work would be on the main system anyway.”

Ridley nodded. “Yes, yes. I know. She is quite scrupulous in that respect.”


Ridley cut him off. “Look. I want you to take a step back. Call her, but don’t go to see her. Ideally stick to text or email. That way if ethics look into you, there’s no possibility that you can be accused to passing any information to her while she’s in hospital.”

“Excuse me sir, but that makes no sense.”

“Trust me Brian. Besides, she’ll be out in a day, two at the most, or so they say. It’s unseemly urgency that draws attention.”

“I had very much wanted to see her, but I’ll do as you say.”

“On a related topic, any joy on that job I asked you to do?”

“Sorry sir?”

“The bottle.”

“Oh that. I went to evidence. She wouldn’t let me have it, but promised me it would be sent for testing as a priority.”

“Go back and check on it tomorrow.”

“That bottle. Why is it important? It’s just an old bottle, isn’t it?”

“I happen to believe it had already been stolen from our evidence store when Maeve found it at that crime scene.”

“I see.”

“You probably don’t, but never mind.”

“May I ask?”

“Obviously, they think it’s some kind of ero-drug, something that might be useful to them if they can replicate it. But it’s not what it seems. If it gets out that we had it, and didn’t tell the home office, heads will roll.”

“So why didn’t we tell the home office?”

“Not my decision. I couldn’t say. But I’m formulating a theory.”

Brian opened his mouth to ask.

Ridley cut him off. “Sorry. I can’t tell you more. I think we’ve got some big problems here, and that’s going to be the least of it.”

* * * * *

Patrice pushed the SIM carrier into the budget phone. It used to be they were picky about your details when you bought a SIM. Apparently, that was all in the past. She’d bought this one from a grubby little late-night opening supermarket. It had some Indian writing on it, but the phone came up with a familiar network logo.

There was nobody she could call, but she could try his server. She knew the login by heart. There might be an offer for her. He probably still wanted the bottle. There would be threats, all the worse for being veiled.

She logged in, holding her breath as the site loaded, sluggish over the questionable phone connection.

You stupid cunt Paddy.
You should have known better. I was going to be good to you, and now you betray me like this.
Your sister is with a friend of mine. So far nothing serious has happened to her. She’s just trying a hit of green.
She’s being a good little bunny, but we haven’t let her fuck. I don’t know how long we’re going to keep her clean, she seems so eager.
Here’s a picture, so you know I’m not bluffing.
I want that bottle back. It’s not really that important, but it’s a matter of principle.
If you don’t want her to go through all the colors until we end on red, you’d better get it to me quick.

The picture looked real. It was hard to tell with these things. Jess was naked, arms bound behind her back in a single leather sleeve, straps holding it on, crossed between her breasts. A bright-red ball gag was strapped into her mouth, and a matching red collar was locked around her neck. There was a ring on the front, with a leash clipped onto it. The leash went out of frame.

She had a far-away, absent look in her eyes, and drool was running freely around the ball. It was a look typical of someone on green. Lights on but nobody home. At least that was how they showed it in the dramas. She’d never seen somebody on it for real.

Patrice shuddered. She was too dead inside for the tears to come. She’d failed and the unthinkable had happened. Except it wasn’t unthinkable, she’d worried about it before, and he’d obviously had it planned all along. They’d probably grabbed Jess the moment she stepped out of the door. Only nineteen. Her life ahead of her.

She had to buy some time.

She typed her response into the text box.

I don’t have the bottle. I put it somewhere safe. I can get it eventually, but I already transferred the contents. Do you want them?
I put the new bottle somewhere safe too. You won’t get any of it if you hurt Jessica. You won’t get any of it if you kill me.
How is our mutual friend? I did what you asked. Are you happy?

They’d used green on her. That meant they didn’t want to hurt her yet. They had plenty of scope to ramp up the pressure. She just had to stall for time. Somehow, she would get Jess back. Somehow.

* * * * *

Maeve ran her fingers over the cracked stone of the ruined kirk’s wall. She should be back at work, back on the mainland, instead of here, dragging out her sick leave.

She must be a bad person. She had Brian, and everything was perfect. So, what was wrong with her? Why did she feel like having thoughts about Ridley was a kind of betrayal?

With no work to occupy her mind, it was difficult not to think of Brian and Ridley, and thinking of Ridley had brought back too many memories already. But if she went back to work, Ridley would be physically present, a continual reminder. She was stuck, one path was a dead end, and the other filled with hazards.

Ridley was the opposite of Brian, older, cynical, selfish, and cautious, more politician than detective. Anything there’d ever been between them was toxic. They’d both moved on, and that was for the best. To restart it now would be even worse than before, he was her direct superior, an affair with him now would trigger justified accusations of bias. He’d never endanger his career like that. As likely as not, he’d throw her to the wolves long before it became a disciplinary matter, feed her straight into the maw of the ethics committee.

Their old affair hadn’t even been that big of a deal. Kinky yes, but just sex, empty and loveless. The rubber, the bondage and the role-play had made it seem more than it was. Had its twisted shape set the tone for the relationships that followed? None had lasted long. But that went with the job, she couldn’t blame Ridley for what came after. Those guys were trash, and she’d been right to get rid of them, like she’d got rid of him. Izzy had said it was a fear of abandonment that made her desert them first, but that was her dumb pop-psychology, or spite, or both.

Brian was different, she couldn’t let anything spoil things between them. Maybe, if it came to it, she’d quit her job, or maybe she could get some kind of transfer. Brian wouldn’t want her to. But with Ridley sending her nuts, maybe there was no other way to find some kind or normal.

Brian didn’t know about her history with Ridley. He wouldn’t worry about it, so she shouldn’t worry about it. Damn Ridley, damn him and his reasonableness. They’d done their best to keep things secret, always so careful, and yet it was possible that people might have found out about it. Was there anyone who could have put two and two together? Had Patty guessed and said nothing? Until now.

Maeve might be able to work out who knew about her and Ridley, if only she could only itemize every meeting, and remember every occurrence. But it was too long ago. She couldn’t do it. Or maybe, she shouldn’t even try, because thinking about the things he’d done to her was sometimes not completely awful. Some of those games had been fun, but she ought to be stamping out those flames, not rekindling them.

She’d been thinking about it for too long, churning it over for weeks. Was her memory honest and accurate? Or was she fooling herself? Was the version of the past she remembered as much fabrication and fantasy as it was real?

If she worked back, meeting by meeting, from the last time… It had been at Ridley’s house. Summer. A freak heat wave. She’d planned to end it immediately, but then somehow, like a bad romance movie, they’d ended up having sex. It hadn’t stopped there, two days of rubber, bondage and drinking had followed. He’d shown her the colors.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that she’d gravitated towards working against illegal drugs after that. The colors had been the harbinger of the ero-drug trade. Not that she’d seen the originals, not the real originals from Hanley-Muller. Ridley had samples from Lucky Mountain, Chinese copies, though it was fifty-fifty Hanley-Muller owned them anyway.

They were still the foundation of all the trouble today, a suite of drugs, each one brightly color-coded so indicate its purpose. All of them flavorless, and odorless, and all of them turned clear in water, as if the potential for misuse had been designed into them from the beginning, which it probably had.

They had become icons of youth culture, the blue, colored to match the old male stimulant pills, the pink, the holy grail of aphrodisiacs, which actually worked, specific to women, the easy way for a teenage boy to get into his girlfriend’s panties. It only got worse from there, the green, that turned anyone into a sex-crazed, brainless animal, the yellow that selectively paralyzed the voluntary muscles, trapping people helpless in their bodies, without fear of them asphyxiating, and the purple, perfectly convenient knock-out drops. The purple had become the go-to drug for so many nefarious purposes that it had become slang term for knocking somebody out.

But those were the nice ones. The red turned the dial on sexual desire up to eleven and then twisted any sensation into sexual pleasure, the stronger the better, with pain being best of all. Psychologically addictive when used under restraint, a messy, but pleasant suicide when used alone. Most dealers shied away from red. It didn’t generate enough repeat custom.

The worst of them all was black. Somebody had chosen that color well, a marketing researcher perhaps? Mind control in a bottle, like something from an old cold-war spy movie. The only thing limiting its use was the outrageous price it demanded on the underground markets. With black you could make a person do anything. Whether you wanted them to sign over their house, or strap explosives to their body and detonate themselves in a crowded place. Bad guys liked black, but didn’t always work for them, and sometimes their victims were able to resist. The black always worked best when the instructions were sexual, and worst when they were obviously self-destructive.

The security risk of black meant there was a government department devoted to investigating and stopping it, but they were military, not police. If she found an operation that could manufacture black, she was obligated to call them in, and of course they’d take all the credit for any hard work that happened to have been done to get to that point. But they were not a group it was wise to cross, and besides, the ero-drug task force was a new thing, in this police force anyway. A conflict had never arisen.

The colors, and their numerous back-street knock-offs, near equivalents and related drugs were her business now, her crusade. Ridley was the commanding officer, but she was in charge on the ground. Or she had been. What was she doing now? It wasn’t a fight that she could easily walk away from.

She’d tried the red herself, that day with Ridley. She’d been tightly restrained and under his control. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that her sex-life had been slightly disappointing since. Brian was an attentive lover, but after the intensity of red, anything else was bound to be a little lackluster. Ridley had found a way to make it so that her sex-life would be ruined after him. She ought to hate him.

Maeve was wrenched out of her daydream when the ground shook alarmingly. She tensed, ready to react. There was a loud crash, and the ground shook again, the noise came from beneath her feet. It had echoed up from somewhere under the stone flags of the ruined kirk’s floor.

A quiet rattle continued, like pebbles sliding down a hillside. She bent down, touched the floor with her hand to feel the vibrations. A moment later, the rattling stopped.

Perhaps she should avoid the ground there. She had always assumed it was safe, with solid stone flags set straight into the dirt, much like similar ruins she’d explored on the island. But perhaps there was a crypt under the kirk, and the floor might collapse into it at any time.

She slowed her breathing and tiptoed out through the space where the doors would once have been. The roof couldn’t fall, for there was none, and on one side the wall had completely collapsed. However, the remaining stonework reached high above her head, and if so much as a single stone dropped from that height, it could be lethal. She’d never though about how dangerous those walls might be, and she could have been wrong about the floor, misheard where the sound came from. It could easily have been one of the walls shifting. On consideration, it would probably be wise to get well away from any part of the kirk, just in case there was further movement.

She went a little way beyond the edge of the graveyard and sat down in the heather. If the kirk was going to collapse dramatically, it would be a shame to miss it. The weather was luxuriously warm and after a minute of nothing happening, she lay back to watch the red patterns where the sun soaked through her closed eyelids.

That last time with Ridley had ended up being more illuminating than she’d expected. He’d surprised her. Looking back, precedents had been set. That day, he’d revealed things about himself that she needed to understand now, in the present, to navigate her future. Things about herself too. She hadn’t though much about what she’d done with Ridley since, but Brian’s pictures had awakened old ideas, dredged up old memories.

Comfortable in the heat, and confident she was alone amidst the comparative isolation of the deserted hill, she popped the button on her jeans and slid her hand down inside her panties. A little gentle fingering wouldn’t get her an orgasm, but it would definitely help clarify her mind.

* * * * *

Maeve couldn’t get into the mood. Maybe masturbating out in the open wasn’t her thing after all. She’d done it here when she was younger though hadn’t she. She’d dreamed of rubber even then. Not this time though. She couldn’t stop thinking about Ridley and what he’d been doing with those samples five years ago. He’d hinted that there was something official about them.

Somehow she hadn’t given it much thought at the time. In retrospect, it seemed impossible now that she could have neglected something so monumental. Playing with those samples had been sketchy behavior by any standards, and completely out of character for him.

Had she been blind? The basic principles of their whole affair had been sketchy. At the time the drugs were completely legal, as he’d said, but the ethics were still gray. Perhaps he’d been trying to make her aware of the threat by example, to make her understand in her gut what he was feeling about the potential of those chemicals. Perhaps he’d wanted her to use the black on him. The moment had passed, she’d never know.

How the Home Office fit into it all she couldn’t guess. Maybe that was something she needed to go back and ask him? Even if it meant stirring up old ghosts.

It was what it was.

There had to be more constructive thoughts she could dwell on. The drug gang who’d run the labs had tried to kill her, but they’d failed at it. She’d won. She was still alive and the man who shot her was dead.

What did she have to worry about? The concussion was long gone, and even if her ribs were still sore, she had her full range of movement. She’d had worse injuries from judo practice. She’d been fit for duty for over a month. It was just her stupidity that she wasn’t back on the team already, back on her team. She needed to get over it.

The perfect chance to to set herself up as the heart of the investigation team for the new anti ero-drug squad was slipping away with every day she didn’t go back. If she didn’t return soon, somebody else would build that team, and she would be in the wilderness, so much work wasted. Years of effort and sacrifice for nothing. What she had to do was walk back in, take charge, put herself back where she belonged.

She should be doing that, right now, instead of here, dead-center of exactly nothing, in the most abandoned place on the least significant island in the world.

She’d come to see her family, so why wasn’t she with them? Why was she up a hill, picking bilberries. Bilberries? Tiny, and sour, and black. She glanced down at the plastic tub, it wasn’t even half-full. Berry picking? Who was she trying to kid?

The sound of a car, somewhere close, brought her back to reality. She stood up and looked around, curious, but it was already out of sight, the sound fading. She swore quietly to herself. Somebody had been here all along, and she hadn’t realized. Had they seen her with her hand down her pants? Yuk.

She held her breath and listened, but there was nothing but the birds and the bees. She took a handful of the bitter-sour fruit and popped them into her mouth, one by one. The taste, like her job, wasn’t as satisfying as she remembered.

Being shot had taught her something, but exactly what, she wasn’t sure. It certainly hadn’t helped her get her priorities in order. If it had helped her question past decisions, it was a bust, because she hadn’t turned up any answers. All it had done was break something inside her, snapped the spring that drove her, leaving her devoid of any means of propulsion through life. She’d had just enough confidence to succeed before, but it seemed like she’d lost it.

And those memories of Ridley. There was no way she could have remembered all that even if it had happened that way. There had been sex on the bench-top, that wasn’t fresh fantasy, and there had been some heavy rubber bondage, but the specifics had likely been different. As for her interactions with him, she couldn’t remember much of them at all. Even the red, yes, that had been intense, and a pivotal moment in their relationship, but the specific words he’d used, she couldn’t remember, and it didn’t matter. Any details she came up with were as much fantasy as memory. Why hadn’t she imagined something like that with Brian instead?

Whether it was Brian, or the future of the task-force. Now, she didn’t know what to do about it, as if she’d been blindsided by her own uncertainty. She wasn’t normally this way, lacked experience in navigating it.

Didn’t she have a dream? A purpose? She hadn’t joined the force just to make sure procedure got followed and idiots wore their gloves. She’d never planned on getting bogged in politics. She certainly hadn’t joined to sit in front of a computer making presentations with pi-charts, so that she could be sneered at by morons so self-satisfied that they couldn’t appreciate the tragedy of their own shallow sexist, racist, resentment-filled lives.

No, that wasn’t fair. The resentment was all hers, and she should have more empathy. They also had ambitions, and things to protect, things they cared about. Didn’t they? They were diligent officers who also worked long hours. They too had to do administrative work that seemed like a distraction from the serious business of trying to keep order in a world that was always struggling to spin out of control. But the rules had to be followed, because even the best-intentioned people made mistakes.

The berries were so sour that they derailed her train of thought. Had they always been so nasty?

She wandered back into the little graveyard, overgrown with gorse and berry bushes, a home for spiders and ants. The tombstones were weathered down to humps, inscriptions lost beneath a mottling of yellow lichen. The air was still. The birds were still arguing, fat bumblebees humming around a fuchsia-bush gone wild. It had been years since she’d seen a bumblebee, but there were several here, still thriving.

What was that?

A strange sticky sound had come from somewhere nearby.

* * * * *

Maeve checked left and right, trying to home in on the odd sound. It was right in front of her, but what was it? Was she imagining things? Was her concussion still causing problems? She shook her head, looked again. No. It was there, unless she really was hallucinating.

She took a step closer. The illusion didn’t vanish. A glob of black goo was moving methodically from plant to plant. First a tendril shot out, anchored on the adjacent plant stem, and then the mass of the thing seemed to flow along that strand until it had all coalesced at its new location. Once the process was complete, it began again.

It didn’t look like any plant or animal she’d seen before, not even in documentaries. The closest thing was a mollusc. An octopus? Perhaps… There was an octopoid quality to its movement, still, then suddenly squirting forward.

As a child, she’d been sure there were things on the island, things that mainlanders would only laugh at the idea of, things she’d learned not to talk about. She’d seen the lights at night, like fireflies. But there were no fireflies on the island, so what were they? The old folks only frowned and shook their heads if you mentioned it, so she’d learned not to.

But this was no floating light, it was something else entirely. She pulled the lid from the tub she’d been collecting berries in, and tipped out the berries. It was a shame to waste them, but she had so few anyway.

With the container in one hand and the lid ready in the other, she began to stalk the creature in earnest. Moving quietly, she kept her breathing slow and soft. At last, she was close enough. It had established itself in a new position. Just as it shot a fresh tendril, she interposed the plastic tub. The glistening black stuff hit the inside with a wet smack. Oblivious to the substitution, the thing began to move itself to the new location, gathering in the tub.

Maeve clipped the lid on and locked it shut. It was supposed to have an airtight seal. Could the thing breathe in there? It bristled once, shooting out a mass of tendril spikes, the tentacles of an anemone, then settled down into a puddle on the bottom, motionless.

Something glinted near her feet, drawing her attention. She brushed aside the grass, and picked up a pair of binoculars. Somebody must have dropped them, and recently, by the look of it. They looked expensive. The owner would probably be back to look for them.

She left them on a tombstone where they’d be easy to find.

story continued in part 5

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