Chapter 9: Sacred Places
By AmyAmy, based on an idea by John Hynden
Brian parked his car around the corner from Maeve’s flat. It wasn’t out of sight of the main road, not a good spot, the sort of place that car-thieves liked. If they didn’t take the whole car, they took the wheels, or simply smashed out your windows and urinated onto the seats. Why did people do that?
He looked up at the street-light as the car locked itself. It hadn’t been broken earlier, had it?
There was a soft sound, too soft. He began to turn. A heavy blow knocked him to the ground. He couldn’t breathe, tried to move to stand but his arms wouldn’t respond, and his legs seemed distant. Everything was spinning and he couldn’t tell which way was up or down. Except nothing was moving, he was lying on the ground, wet black dirt soaking into his fleece-top.
A booted foot was resting on his shoulder, a cheap knock-off of an expensive work-boot. His eyes managed to reestablish which way was up. Next to whoever was standing on him was another man, young, his face scratched, heavy discolored bruises showing around the jaw, spray-skin covering deeper cuts.
“Eh, eh, you fuckin’ Brian?” the man said.
“What?” he groaned.
“Easier if you say yes mate, then we don’t have to kick you again before checking your wallet.”
* * * * *
In her dream, Maeve slid forward, pressing her crotch down onto Sarah’s face. Sarah wasted no time in putting her tongue to work on Maeve’s clit. It was definitely still there, under the rubber. She could feel herself dribbling copiously into Sarah’s mouth.
Sarah seemed to be enjoying the experience, licking and sucking with frenzied enthusiasm. For Maeve, the relief was immediate, like the sudden vanishing of the pain from a pulled muscle, or the miraculous absence of a headache. It was so good, so right, such a perfect sensation. Orgasms like a chain, one link after another, each a little stronger than the last. Pure, unfiltered pleasure.
Her boobs swelled and tightened, squeezing the black oily liquid from her nipples of their own accord. It dribbled down, not up, but down, over her glistening skin, beading into droplets without sticking to it, running onto Sarah’s face as if it knew where to go.
Sarah shuddered, gasping, and convulsing.
Maeve lost herself in her own pleasure. When her awareness returned, Sarah was limp, breathing softly, seemingly asleep.
Maeve closed her eyes and slumped backwards, knees folded, still on top of Sarah. She put a hand to each breast and surrendered to the subtle satisfaction of milking herself. It wasn’t much, but there was a rightness to it anyway.
Hadn’t she said she wouldn’t do this?
It was alright. After all, it was only a dream. Dreams didn’t count.
* * * * *
Maeve was outside, running fast. Her chest heaved with exertion. How had she got here? She was sure it was night time, though for her it wasn’t dark. Her last memory was of packing in a hurry, but despite the rush, she’d stopped to rest for just a second. She must have fallen asleep on the sofa. So how come she was outside, running?
It was like that other weird dream, the one she’d had upside down in the shower. More real than a dream, more like a replay, a rediscovered memory.
A garden fence, six-foot high, rushed towards her. Instead of crashing into it, she shot into the air, catapulted upwards by an impossible leap. She hit the ground on the other side of the fence, still running.
Was she running towards something, or away from it?
Things just seemed to be happening, without reason or conscious control. She leaped over another fence.
The sound of gunfire cracked out from behind her. Maybe this dream wasn’t going to be as much fun as the one with Sarah. A pity. That one had been nice.
She was tired, running from somebody, but from whom? A disturbance in the air close to her shoulder, suggested another bullet had been a near miss. Yet another garden fence loomed up, taller than the last.
She vaulted, and holding the top of the fence-post pivoted flat against the opposite side, stopping herself dead. The concrete post flexed under the stress, as if about the break.
A gray shape flew over the fence and passed over her head, so fast it was just a blur.
Time slowed down, or somehow, she sped up.
With everything moving like it was sinking through oil, she had the opportunity to examine her pursuer in detail, a Hanley-Muller combat robot, probably from the police trial. She could see the tiny logo stenciled discretely into its disruption camouflage; the gun pod that sprouted from its lower-arm, the barrel glowing hot; there were globs of expanding-foam glue spattered over its front, as if it had been nearby a glue-grenade detonation.
Time still sluggish, she used the fence as a springboard, threw herself forward to tackle the droid from behind, pushing it to the ground. Though it moved slowly, it was still strong. Surely, there was no way she could overpower the machine? And yet it gave ground. There were sounds of pings and snaps from inside the chassis, then a gut-wrenching crunch as something sheared off, followed by the shrieking whine of powerful motor running free, connected to nothing.
The humanoid robot twitched and tried to bring its gun arm to bear, but its movements were feeble. She tore the damaged arm off at the shoulder, threw it away, over the fence. She grabbed its gyrating head with both hands and crushed it, shattering the array of cameras, aerials, microphones, and other sensors she couldn’t even identify.
Crouching, with the bot pinned under her, she gouged frantically at its chest cavity. Her fingers ended in blades, black claws that cut through the metal and ceramic alike. She tore away its armor, penetrated the chassis, and found the power-source. She tore it out. The robot stopped moving. Not with the slow power-down sound of a movie special-effect, but instantly, as if a switch had been flipped. It was silent, motionless. The only noise was the distant rumble of traffic.
The robot was a mannequin in shades of gray, headless now, with soft plastic flesh – artificial muscle – and an armored chest full of servo-motors and anonymous black modules. Beneath the flesh were fibre-tech bones, or something similar. H-M had materials nobody else had. It was dressed in the same mix of plastic and ceramic armor that she’d worn the night she was shot, and that had stopped the military-issue bullets. There was a metal plate over the chest, where the battery had been. It was punctured with a ragged, gaping hole, where her claws had torn through the armor, and then the chassis plate, all with equal facility.
The head had been humanoid, though it was just a tangle of shattered parts now. Cameras, under clear plastic domes, had been studded all over it, most facing forward. Two long bunny-ears had stuck out, a camera on each end. There had been other sensors, but she couldn’t remember the details from the briefing video, and the mangled wreckage offered few clues.
She set off running again, an easy lope that she could sustain indefinitely, despite her fatigue.
* * * * *
Maeve woke from a dream about her sisters. It had to be a dream because they were getting on well together, and that never happened in real life. She was glued upside down in the shower again. The puddle of light on her bathroom ceiling had grown, and ripples spread across the surface as new droplets fell upwards into it. The other dreams, Sarah, the thing with the robot, were still fresh in her mind, not yet faded, in that way that dreams usually would as she came fully awake.
She would have thought it odd, because she usually didn’t remember her dreams, but after the last time, she could already guess that at least some of the dream-like recollections were real experiences, things that had happened while the goo was in control.
As she tore herself free, two questions took turns in her mind. Where was Brian? And, how did she end up glued upside-down in the shower again? There was a third question, but it was best to put the Sarah issue aside.
She checked the time, four-AM. Brian should have been back hours ago.
Back in the living area, the news was still playing on the wall-screen. It was supposed to turn itself off if there was nobody in the room, but it rarely did. Bugged. Another news-reporter was interviewing D.C.I. Ridley about an alleged sighting of the fetish killer. Six of the new H-M robots had been sent in pursuit, and apparently, all of them had been destroyed. Ridley was trying to spin it as a win, because human casualties had been averted.
It was almost certain that she was the one who’d destroyed those robots, in a dream that wasn’t a dream. That was bad enough, but there was no way that Brian could have taken this long to fetch his stuff, especially when he suspected she might run off without him. What had happened to him?
D.C.I. Ridley had a point about the robots. If she had been chased by human police officers it might have killed them. In her dream, she was stronger and faster than a combat droid, so what chance did a person stand against her? She had to stop herself before she did something worse than hospitalising some small-time dealers.
It was a fair guess that when she fell asleep the goo set about its enigmatic business. If it had some goal in mind, but she couldn’t remember enough to make sense of it. If her dreams were a clue, then it had her sisters on its mind. If there was even a chance that she was right, she had to do something first.
If it wasn’t tricking her boyfriend and best-friend into drug-crazed sex together, it was running around the city, attacking people and destroying robots, seemingly at random. But it probably wasn’t random, was it?
She tried Brian’s phone, but she went straight to voicemail. She left a message. Then she sent a text, and another text.
If it had developed an interest in her family, nothing good could come of that.
For now, nobody she knew was safe from the thing, or from Hanley-Muller, and perhaps they had Brian. If it wasn’t for his disappearance, she would leave the country, like she’d planned, go somewhere she could isolate the thing from other people. It would have to be a place wild and remote enough that it couldn’t’ easily escape. How could it have stayed undetected on a tiny, crowded island? It couldn’t have been there for long.
Space… that was the place for it. The idea came out of nowhere, but it made perfect sense. Even Hanley-Muller would have trouble following her there.
“Space. Space is the place,” she said aloud. Laughed.
She drank milk straight from the container, emptying it. The salmon steaks had all vanished.
There was always the possibility that the goo wasn’t setting the tone of her dreams, rather her dreams were setting the agenda for the goo. Perhaps what she was doing was an extreme kind of sleep-walking? Had she ever had sexual thoughts about Sarah before? She couldn’t trust herself to be honest about it.
On consideration, she felt better blaming it all on the goo.
She glanced across at the news channel. Some PR woman from H-M was being interviewed, probably about the robots. The sound was down. She turned it up.
“-already replaced all human labor in our manufacturing, and it hasn’t led to layoffs. The reverse in fact. We’re hiring more people than ever. Despite the scaremongering, human-beings are not obsolete, and never will be.”
The woman was in her fifties, but her teeth were perfectly white and even. Everything about her image was polished yet inoffensive, flawless yet down-to-earth. She oozed sincerity. H-M had always been good at PR, but lately, people seemed to believe anything they said, no matter the information emerging to the contrary.
Some people practically worshiped Nilma as a goddess. And even if it wasn’t about Nilma, it was about how H-M had done some new thing that was making life wonderful for more and more people.
There were just as many voices saying the exact opposite. Nilma’s conspicuous wealth was disgusting, and it was obvious that any H-M product or plan would make things worse. There was no shortage of channels that agreed with her. That wasn’t proof she was right, but it sure wasn’t proof she was wrong either.
H-M, love them or hate them, you had to pick one side or the other, but it was always H-M, front and center. It all span around them. Surely, there were other things going on in the world?
She sighed and hit the off button. Of course, H-M weren’t laying people off, but what about their competitors? Every year the government had to invent a new way to massage the unemployment statistics. She’d actually considered applying to H-M’s security division. It made sense to move before the police ceased to exist. Logically, it was only a matter of time before the uniformed officers were phased out, detectives wouldn’t be far behind. Besides, if she worked for them, she’d get to find out the secret place they tattooed the 666, or so the joke went.
And now she was bound up with H-M anyway, wasn’t she? What other company could have made the thing that had taken her over? When she slept, was it doing things for them? No. It wouldn’t be killing their robots.
Where was Brian? She repacked her bag so that when he arrived she’d be ready to leave right away. If she had any idea where to look, she would go. She should check his flat. In a minute she’d find that long coat, and the scarf, and the gloves, maybe some baggy track pants, and she’d be fit to drive to his place.
She closed her eyes. When had she got so bitter and cynical? Had it only been the last few days, or had this been building up for a long time, lurking beneath the surface?
* * * * *
Maeve woke up, driving. At least she wasn’t glued upside down into the shower. She was too confused to panic.
The car veered sideways. She was bumping down the hard-shoulder, tyres rattling and shaking on the rough surface, lane-departure-warning beeping and shaking the wheel. Her reactions kicked in and steered back into the inside-lane. Her car was too old to have a proper auto-mode.
It must have been in control of her. It had got in the car and driven… Somewhere. She’d been planning to drive to Brian’s, but that was minutes away, and this was the motorway.
For whatever reason, it wasn’t driving now. The confusion of waking up had almost ended in a high-speed crash. For a moment, she’d thought she was about to die. Soon the adrenalin after-shock would kick in, her hands would go numb and she’d be shaking and weeping. She needed a place to pull-over.
She’d been through situations like this in work, and that was how it would happen for her. They’d covered it in training, adrenalin shock. She knew it wasn’t weakness, just a normal human hormonal response, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with when it happened.
There was nowhere to stop. She would either have to pull onto the hard-shoulder and stop there, or keep driving through the shakes. She glanced down. She was wearing sweat-pants and one of Brian’s shirts. At least the thing had put some clothes on to hide itself.
From her satnav screen, it looked like she was on the last leg of the trip to the ferry terminal. The thing must have figured out about the car somehow. It must have seen people driving and it had found her keys. Perhaps it had been interfering with a car when the police spotted it and sent those robots earlier?
But if there was nothing but her, she already knew how to drive, knew exactly where she’d left her keys. The reasoning was too seductive, best not to go there.
Should she turn around? Head home? What was the point? She would fall asleep, and the same thing would happen again. Or worse, it would find a way to stop her interfering altogether. She didn’t really have any choice but to go along with its plans, for now.
If it could figure out something as complex as the rules of driving, she was in trouble. So far it had seemed a simple, instinct-driven beast, a dumb-creature that was all fight or flight. Perhaps she’d been wrong about that, and it had been following a deeper plan all along?
The satnav was set, destination Douglas. She’d never thought of setting the town as a destination, though she’d known it was possible. It seemed stupid to try and drive to somewhere across the sea. However, the satnav seemed to know about ferries. It showed a dotted line across the blue part. So, the goo knew about satnavs as well as driving? It was like everything around her, every machine, every weird entity, knew more about her life than she did.
It was looking for her family. Why? It was planning something, but what?
Or, what if she was wrong? If it didn’t care about her family? It could be looking for something on the island, something she’d missed when she first found it.
She’d visited that spot many times over the years. She’d cycled there every day of the summer holidays when she was a girl. It hadn’t changed in all that time.
Never mind that, if she couldn’t find a way to stop the thing using her while she slept, there was no knowing what might happen. She was already wanted. The suit was a dead-giveaway. For some reason, nobody had mentioned her face. So far there were no pictures of her, not even long-range video from an aerial drone.
Which was strange, especially if she’d been pursued by robots. They always had air-support. And surely, the H-M robots had sent data back to their controllers? Even if their net connections had failed, there was built-in storage, enough to record their activities for days at a time. So why were there no images of her face?
The first night, she was sure the goo had swallowed her completely, covered her face and smothered her unconscious. Had that been a nightmare? It had to be. As far as she could be sure of, it had never moved above her neck-line.
It was hard to imagine Hanley-Muller putting it on the island, or losing it there, or it having ended up there as part of an escape attempt. The extent of their influence there was limited to a single Ecobarn store. It would be absurd to try and hide a secret research lab in such a small place. Importing the specialists required to staff anything worthwhile would started local gossip, but instead, the place was quiet as a grave outside of tourist season.
She was still driving, still calm. The adrenalin freak-out hadn’t happened. That was peculiar in itself. There should at least have been something, some anxiousness at least. But she’d stayed completely calm.
She turned off the satnav. It wasn’t much help in avoiding the jams on the way to the docks. The computer voice was just a nagging nuisance.
Was that how the thing saw her? A nagging voice that told it to do things, when it knew what to do perfectly well? No. It couldn’t be that. If it was so smart it wouldn’t have ended up chased by the police at least twice.
For all she knew, it had got her into other trouble, events that hadn’t involved the police, or attracted the attention of a television crew. Events that she hadn’t even dreamed about.
* * * * *
Maeve left the Douglas ferry terminal and drove into the predictable jam of slow-moving traffic. She didn’t want the rubber thing any nearer to her family than it had to be. She’d have to find a hotel, preferably one with parking, which was notoriously impossible, even in the off-season, and this wasn’t quite the off-season. The racing was over for the year, but the island was still awash with visitors.
Two hours later, Maeve dumped her bag on the floor of her hotel room. Ironically, she could see the roof of the ferry terminal from her window. Two hours of phoning hotels, and sitting in traffic jams, and she’d travelled less than a kilometre. If she’d known where she’d end up, she could have got here in five minutes.
The thing had brought the bag she’d packed. Fortunate in one way, concerning in another. Her phone was in the side pocket. She pulled it out and set it to charge. There were unread messages from Brian, but nothing sent after he left her flat to get his stuff.
She’d half hoped that he would have sent a text complaining she’d run off without him, but there was nothing. Had the goo done something to him? She sent him another message, like the others, “Where are you?” There was no response. Maybe later.
She pulled off the baggy sweat-pants and long-sleeved shirt of Brian’s that the thing had chosen as a disguise. For some reason, they felt itchy and annoying, despite the shiny rubber-like covering on her legs. The shirt was scratchy too, so she undid a couple of buttons and pulled it over her head.
The receptionist on the front desk had been helpful. And pretty. A student probably. Dark skin, big eyes, demure under heavy lashes, and a voluptuous figure perfect for her height.
Out of nowhere, a stab of pleasure brought her to her knees, face pressed into the bed-cover. Her chest heaved, breath coming in gasps. It would be so easy to go with the flow, ride this for all it was worth. Instinctively, her hand slid to her breast, slippery through her ‘gloved’ hand, smooth darkness against smooth darkness. Nothing but frustration.
It would be easy to soak up the orgasms and fall asleep, but the thing always had plans. Every time it got its way, it made trouble. Maybe she shouldn’t sleep?
“Stop that. Stop it,” Maeve said. It wasn’t like it could hear her, but it helped to focus her intentions.
“Stop it right now.”
She groaned, clutching the bed-covers in her hands. The overpowering pleasure was fading. After a few seconds, there was nothing but a familiar nagging frustration.
Had the thought about the receptionist triggered it? Sickening. Maybe if she’d been thinking about a man, she could tolerate it. What had it sensed in her that she didn’t’ know about herself?
She cursed. Now it had her doubting her own sexuality. She knew what she wanted, and it wasn’t a woman.
Another thrill ran through her, setting her sex on fire again.
She made her mind a blank, waited for the feeling to pass.
After a minute, she was simply angry and frustrated. She would have to be very careful about her thoughts in future. But was that even possible? Could she filter herself like that?
If she wanted to function, she wouldn’t have much choice.
There was a mirror on the wardrobe door. She sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the reflection of her black clad figure, a glistening black doll, from the Barbie does rubber-porn collection. It wasn’t her shape. Except it was. It was how she was now, and she had no way to change it. Intimacy was going to be difficult with a body like this, even with Brian. It wouldn’t be safe for him to suck on her nipples or lick her clitoris if she was like this.
If she was honest, she wasn’t as comfortable with sex as she’d liked to tell herself. Maybe the reason Brian wasn’t answering was because he didn’t want anything to do with her the way she was now? She’d been sure she could trust him, but she’d been about to run off and leave him, hadn’t she? With good intentions, but there was a saying about those and a road. He was right not to trust her, for multiple reasons. It might be for the best.
If only there was somebody she could talk to, somebody who would understand what she was going through. She needed help to process the new reality of her appearance.
It was like when she was a girl, and one day she couldn’t get her pants up over her hips. She’d understood, all at once, that the changes inside her had become visible on the outside for anyone to see, and that things were going to change. She’d tried to talk to Izzy about it, but all she’d done was warn her not to let any of the boys at school inside her pants.
She couldn’t sit here feeling sorry for herself forever. The only think she could think of to check was the place she’d found the goo in the first place, the ruined kirk. She might as well go there.
* * * * *
Maeve parked as close to the ruined kirk as she could get. She made sure this time, that there were no other cars, no tourists despite the busy season. In any case, there were no views to draw them in, no leafy glen threaded with babbling brooks to charm them. There was nothing here but fields, gorse and nettles, and her. That was why she liked it.
She found the spot where she’d collected the goo and searched the surroundings carefully. She found the binoculars she’d picked up before, dirty from rain, but otherwise untouched.
The kirk had been unstable before, and she stopped at the threshold. Originally, there must have been a double door, but it and the frame were long-gone. The subsistence farmers that must have built and supported it hadn’t left anything to identify themselves, no inscriptions, dedications or dates. The windows were empty. What had they been like those people? Had the glass been stained, or plain? Had there been any glass at all?
A scent caught in her nose, something familiar. It was like…
She walked into the center of the building. There’d probably only been room for twenty parishioners if they wanted to be comfortable. Her needle heels clicked on the stone. She looked down at the stone flags. There were no weeds growing in the cracks.
She bent down, peered closely at the join between the stones. They were fitted perfectly, no visible gap between them. After so long?
She stood up, stamped her heel down hard, a hammer blow. There was a hollow ringing sound. She half expected to fall through the floor, or for some great rumbling crash to result. Instead, nothing happened.
She checked around the edges, where the floor met the wall. No gaps there either.
She went outside and made a circuit of the walls. The kirk sat on a high point that was itself on the top of a gently sloping hill. It was just a couple of feet above the surroundings, but still the highest spot in the field, a rocky outcrop, sticking out of the thin scraping of earth that covered the surrounding area. Like much of the land on the island, it wasn’t really fit for agriculture.
There was a deep gash in the outcropping. Years of weather had done its work, digging a narrow fissure, barely an inch across. A dark crack at the bottom was barely a quarter of that. It should have been filled with dirt. Instead there was darkness.
She dropped a tiny stone into the crack. There was no sound. She dropped another, and this time, there was a very faint sound.
She explored the crack with her fingers, but there was no sign of a fragile spot, and she couldn’t easily widen it.
She went back up to the kirk doorway. Where the dirt met the stone, she dug her heel into the dirt and leaned back. What was she doing? Her heel was going to snap off, and she had no way to repair or replace it.
But it didn’t snap. Instead, with a wet sucking sound, the flag shifted. She jammed her hands into the gap. She had to be mad. Would probably lose her fingers when the massive flagstone crashed down onto them.
Instead, the muscles in her legs, her back, her arms, popped and clicked. It felt as if they were bubbling, as if there was air in her veins.
The slab came up, and with a wrench, she flipped it sideways. The exposed ground was smooth dark earth, no worms or roots, but at the far edge, where the next flagstone began, there was a gap, less than an inch, just wide enough for her fingers. Cold air was rising up out of it. She changed position and braced to lift the next flag.
When the stone came away, it left a narrow gap. It might be big enough for her to fit through. With the bright sunlight in her face, even her strange new eyesight couldn’t make out what was down there in the darkness.
She stripped off her clothes, exposing the flawlessly smooth blackness that had replaced her skin. She folded her pants and shirt and put them by the doorway. She was sure she could fit through the gap, but it would be a squeeze. Should she move another stone? No. A clock was ticking in her head, and somehow she was convinced that she had to hurry.
She wriggled into the hole, feet first. Her hips and bum stuck, and looking at the space she had to get through, surely there was no way they could fit. She pushed and pulled, and dragged herself down. The rough stone pressed on her black coated flesh, but it didn’t scratch her. Surely it was only due to the benefit of that smoothness, and the assistance of gravity that she forced her hips through. After that, the rest of her slipped through easily. She raised her arms in the air and dropped into the cool darkness. How far down?
She landed on something hard and uneven, her eyes still adjusting to the dark after the bright sun. She’d been hasty, what if she couldn’t reach the hole to get out again, or if she could, she wasn’t able to squeeze out through it? It was too late to do anything about that now. After a moment, she could see into the darkness, and for a moment she forgot her fears.
In the middle of the room was a raised section. Yes, it’s definitely a man-made space. It was almost as big as the space above, essentially flat, though the floor was uneven and strewn with broken pieces of stone. The air was cooler than she’d expected, and smelled strange.
Directly in front of her, a circular stone dais was occupied by a wait-high plinth, atop which were three depressions. Two of the hollows contained shards of glass. A stone arch, one of several that supported the ceiling had partially collapsed on them, crumbling after years of abandonment. Miraculously, the third depression hadn’t been hit by the scattering of stones. It contained a single glass sphere, still intact.
She held herself frozen in the crouching position in which she’d landed. There was something about the place that suggested caution, as if the smallest movement would trigger a collapse. Obviously, it was absurd. Outside, she’d just levered up two big stone slabs, and let them fall nearby. If the vibration from that hadn’t triggered further collapse, nothing would.
Still, she had an intuition that the room wasn’t safe, that something that had preserved it was lost, and that the years weighed heavy on the stones. The ruined kirk was Victorian at least, but it could be far older than that. Whatever this place was, it surely predated Hanley-Muller by decades, possibly centuries.
Anything that came from here could not have been made by them.
The walls were covered with carvings. They looked like writing, but not in any alphabet she knew. They weren’t Viking runes, or anything even remotely familiar. They weren’t simple pictograms. Their complexity suggested they weren’t simply decorative either. If she’d had her phone with her, she could have taken photographs or video and sought out help, but it was up top, with her clothes.
In any case, the walls weren’t important. What mattered was the sphere, the single unbroken sphere. It was why she was here.
Moving with cautious slowness, she reached out for the sphere, then hesitated, her fingers hovering over it. Would touching it trigger something irreversible? Was there some Indiana Jones style trap? She’d made a mistake once with the goop, what if this turned out to be worse? It had to be the spooky ambiance getting to her. How could a glass ball be dangerous?
Arm outstretched, her hand hovered over the sphere.
All she had to do was pick it up. She’d been coming to the kirk for years, oblivious that all this was beneath her. If it had been found before, it would have been preserved and turned into a tourist attraction. There would be a tarmac car-park, with a little fence, maybe even toilets. Her private spot would be popular, and ruined. But that hadn’t happened. Instead, she alone had found it. Nobody else had seen this, and if they ever came here afterwards, there would be no spheres, no body-stealing back goop, no sense that time was running out. They could never appreciate the meaning of it, wouldn’t never understand it the way she did. It was her prerogative to be the first down here, to take the sphere. Hadn’t she earned it? She’d returned, again and again over the years? Slowly building a relationship with the place.
What on earth was she thinking?
She tensed her hand slightly, her fingertips brushed against the glass. In response, something moved inside, slithering up inside the walls of the sphere, as if trying to mirror her touch. Despite the glass barrier, she could feel a presence. Warm. Familiar.
She closed her eyes and concentrated. Whispering quietly in the back of her mind was a voice, words… Words she couldn’t understand.
She opened her eyes again. The stuff in the sphere was glowing, the bright yellow light casting deep shadows. There were flickers of other colors too, and as they shifted, she glimpsed momentary images, made by the carvings in relief on the walls. The way the light fell on them made them look different to before, and there were shapes new. She knew, somehow, that the shadows cast by the carvings made patterns that could only be seen with her eyes, and that the light had colors in it that no human could see.
A small stone fell from the ceiling, barely missing her hand, crushing some of the broken glass pieces in the adjacent recess.
Perhaps moving the other flags had made a difference after all, made the roof even less stable than before?
She hesitated, glanced up at the ceiling, around at the stonework supporting it. The keystone was almost out of the nearest arch. She wrapped her fingers around the sphere. It was about the size of a grapefruit, small enough that she could grasp it firmly with her fingers, but too big to cup in her hand. With a swift motion, she picked it up and cupped it against her belly. She pressed it up under her breasts. Above her, out of reach, was the narrow opening.
Definitely, too far to reach.
She jumped, impossibly high, caught the edge with one hand, little fragments splintered where her claws dug into the stone. With only one arm, she pulled herself up, got her elbow onto the edge. She would have to be careful handling the fragile globe.
It mustn’t break. Not now. This wasn’t the time to open it. She was sure there was a reason, she just couldn’t explain it.
Trapped halfway through, with her waist in the hole, she eased the globe through with her other hand, and placed it in the grass by the doorway. She had to take her time to arrange it so that it wouldn’t roll away down the gentle slope.
Above a bird circled, called out. Just a crow, but her heart was beating double time. It was comforting to confirm that she still had a heart. Carefully, so carefully, she eased herself out.
Her bum was stuck again, but she had to be careful not to bump the globe and set it careering down the slope. Scraping through with a force that would have torn her clothes or her bare skin, the smooth rubber eased her passage through the hole.
Once she was through, and looking down at it, it seemed there was no way she could have fit through the hole. It was too small for a skinny person, let alone her inflated chest and somewhat muscular bottom. She checked her boobs, they had shrunk down to their original AA-cup, but her chest was still too big for the gap. Perhaps her eyes were playing tricks, or the hole was deceptive? It didn’t matter. It was too late for that now.
A cold tingle of fear trickled down the back of her spine.
She picked up the globe, cradled it against her, grabbed her neatly folded clothes with her free hand, and ran for her car.
Why? Why am I running?
It had been instinct, but now Maeve sensed something more. She didn’t have time to worry what it was. On a hunch, she threw herself backwards, reversing her direction.
The thing slammed down out of the sky, a bolt of darkness. It hit the ground with a thump that threw the dirt up in a spray, jarred her feet and made her legs tingle.
She’d jumped back just in time. She barely had the chance to see what it was. Dark. Demonic. Powerful clawed feet, black bat-wings beat the air, tips held up, reaching towards the sky, and a head like a smooth, featureless ball.
She had to put distance between her and the monstrosity. Maeve flipped backwards again, surprising herself with her own agility. Where had she learned a trick like that?
It swiped at her with a foot, talons like meat-hooks missed her face so narrowly that she could feel the wind of their passing on her lips.
There was no time to talk, though several questions occurred to her.
The monster lunged again. This time she was ready, caught the foot behind the claw and tried to overbalance it. She might have managed if she hadn’t been protecting the globe with her other arm.
The beast beat its wings, not simply recovering, but lifting Maeve momentarily from the ground.
She let go. Freed of her weight, her adversary shot upward. She made a wide swing with her free arm. The claws she’d used to dig into stone were still there, and they tore the membrane of a wing and gouged down its leg.
The attacker gave an inhuman shriek, a whistle, the sound of wind blowing through abandoned pipes. It was no kind of sound that a living creature should make. It pumped its wings, whipping her with blasts of air, grass and dirt blown up from the ground.
It shrieked again and lurched skyward.
Maeve span, located her car and ran for it, full tilt. The proximity key on her old car had been playing up recently, but the door unlocked with a pull, and she threw herself into the driver’s seat. She slammed the door closed with her right hand, settled the globe in the passenger foot-well with her left. She cushioned it amongst the clothes she’d had no time to put on, still needed something to wedge it properly, but there was nothing.
She pressed the start button, remembering all the old thrillers where the car never started when you needed it. There was no sound. Panic flooded through her. Then she remembered, of course, there wouldn’t be any sound until she hit the accelerator. The console showed six bars of charge. Plenty of range, even with her worn-out old battery, enough power to drive hard.
She’d had this car for years. How could she forget it was electric? There was no accounting for panic. It had been charging in the hotel car-park, and was working properly for once.
She rammed her foot down and the wheels span, overriding the traction control in response to her heavy stomp. She slewed the car around, spitting gravel, suspension jolting as she turned onto the road. The globe clinked loudly. Had it cracked?
In a few moments she was driving as fast as she dared down the hill. She took control of herself, regulating her breathing. The globe had come loose from the clothes shed tried to pad it with and rolled about in the foot-well, making a hollow clunk as it hit one side or another. If she wasn’t careful it would bang hard against the metal rail under the seat.
She had no choice but to slow down. If she kept up this speed she’d crash, or break the globe. Every time she braked, it rolled back against the adjustment handle with an alarming loud noise.
She had no idea how strong the globe was, or how hard an impact it could withstand. There had been two more, clearly fragile. Both had been broken by falling rocks, but how big had the rocks been? How hard had they hit the glass? She’d forgotten to investigate. Wasn’t she supposed to be a detective?
She had to choose between protecting the globe by driving carefully, or pushing her luck to get away from the thing that had attacked her.
story continued in part 10