The noise in the room flowed deep enough for Peter Morland to drown in. People’s voices and the throb of techno music filled the place to overflowing, as any good dance club should on a Friday night during term time in a university town. Much of the two-story room’s population exuded youth and vibrancy drop by drop to swell the flood even higher.
In an odd corner, he sat calmly fighting back the tide, swathed in black from neck to fingertip and from fingertip to toes. His was not a trendy black or a Goth black, it was just the mixed black of a man whose entire wardrobe was dark, simple, and chosen primarily at random. He chose his position facing the room only to keep his back unassailable. Even in the smothering heat of the room he wore a high collar and thin gloves that left not a square inch of skin below the jaw exposed to view. The small, black, wire-tethered earphones battled the drowning tide of sound in the room with a steady stream of his own choosing. And his flat supercilious stare prevented the approach of inquisitive or even affable strangers, for a good forty minutes anyway.
As music momentarily faded to the shifting percussive bridge between one song and the next, a single figure detached itself from the churning mass of human flesh on the main dance floor. With bouncing steps it breached his small bubble of calm. A quick move and the chair opposite him spun so she could sit with arms crossed across the top and smile at him with an energy beyond just the zeal of youth. She chose to speak first, before his glaze could freeze her in place with its inhospitality and disdain.
“I give up. You win. You will not come find me, even though you are only drawn into this horrible den to meet with me, even though you live in Oxford all the year round, and could come during the vac when it is far less crowded if you chose. Now I have come to you. If the matter were to be left in your hands, you should most likely sit here until you decided I am not going to show, and leave having had no fun at all.” Her smile was bright and heavily colored. The face was as young as any other in the room as she congenially shouted at him in a conversational tone but something in the eyes did not match. The smell of alcohol on her breath carried surprisingly well in the haze of cigarette smoke did, however. He could taste it with every inhalation, and so the discrepancy did not manage to diminish his initial distaste for the ‘young’ person addressing him.
“You are mistaken, miss. You are not the individual for whom I wait. Your hair is cut mannishly short and even in this subdued and erratic lighting it is noticeably green. Your face is hardly beyond teen-age. Your demeanor is too frivolous. And, your figure both too curvy and too well exposed to be the one I expect. Now, please remove yourself from my table and return to your alcoholic flavored fornications.”
She sat straighter and her cheerful tone dropped into an older, lower, more cynical register, matching his disdain, though retaining the humor. “I do not doubt I am not the person you were expecting, but I am the person for whom you wait. I suggest you rethink your assumptions before you open your mouth again, Mr. Peter Morland. You have already shoved one foot ankle deep within its confines. If you insist on sending the other in after it the combined mass may choke you.” The amusement she manifested did nothing to diminish the threat carried within the final remark.
Peter’s mouth opened wide as if to accommodate the metaphorical appendage. He removed the defensive devices he wore hooked over his ears. When he responded, his words came slow and at such a low volume no normal person could possibly separate them from the steady flood of sound in the room, “Sir Julian Grey?”
“That honorific is so obviously improperly gendered there is no need for its denial or correction. You may address me as Grey. If you still want my help you may also promptly dismiss any further displays of surprise or disbelief. You may, however, decide you no longer desire my assistance in whatever enterprise you have in hand for reasons I do not care to speculate as to the nature of. I would suggest, if so, that you say so at once. I am certain you have other places to be and I, also, have much better things to do.”
Peter snapped his mouth shut with a scowl, “Can we discuss my proposal somewhere it is not necessary to shout?” Grey’s nod was archaically gracious. She was polite enough not to point out they had no need to shout there, and suddenly Morland recognized the discrepancy about her eyes. Those eyes were far older than her face and form had any right to be.
The coffee shop Grey took him to provided a far more familiar setting for Morland. It nestled into a side street with a subdued sign and calm atmosphere. The furnishings made an unorthodox picture. Old comfortable couches and heaps of pillows outnumbered the typical tables and chairs, but the subdued atmosphere encouraged thought and study, rather than riot and laughter. Students in singles and small groups clotted the room with books and papers often eclipsing coffee cups and pastry plates with the occasional don wading through a stack of essays. No mob of club-fresh young people would totter into that place for something to eat before consenting to disperse back to their own rooms.
Morland went there sometimes to read in peace when the weather frowned to wetly for sitting outside and the confines of his own rooms became too small, but he never received the greeting and service inspired by Grey’s company. Once upon a time a pair of foreign exchange students from the American north-western coast came to be the latest incarnation of the Heavenly Cup’s management. Now, as a middle-aged husband and wife team it still showed in the way each step from roasting to serving of the coffee preparation stood on display and the expansive variations on the theme of caffeine overdose, but they adapted very well to Oxford’s atmosphere of hallowed antiquity beneath the modern bustle. Their eldest child, Kaitlyn, presided at the counter with her displays of skill that night but she barely paused to finish the orders she was preparing when she saw Grey enter the place. Morland was overwhelmed and nearly forgotten in the sedate rush to greet the odd young woman who claimed to be Julian Grey, heir to Lord Aaron Grey, knighted by two monarchs from under the hills, one of the most talked of but least well known independents in the fantastic field.
Softly, sullenly, on the edge of the babble that swept up several of the customers as well as almost the entire staff, Morland grumbled, “She can not be Julian Grey.” She paused to glare at him over the head of a bubbling waitress. Grey heard him, and he wondered why he was surprised. He could have heard him in her place too, even with his earphones on. Independent troubleshooters do not last long dealing with those other than humans without a good bit of the Other in themselves.
Before long– though it seemed an eternity to Morland– they were established in one of the mounds of pillows with a low table in reach loaded with cups, sandwiches, pastries, and at least two kinds of soup, and business settled back to its normal level of serenity. Morland would have preferred one of the couches if not actually a table, while Grey settled comfortably into place. Rather than ask to move, he napped, “What was all that about? Work here part-time while up at University, do you?”
Grey smiled at him, like a cat at a particularly energetic mouse. “In a manner of speaking, yes, I did some work here when I was a student. The present management was having a spot of bother with a former owner which I helped straighten out for them.”
“Oh how impressive,” Morland muttered, his mind drifting back to his own problems and whether or not this fraud could actually help him or if she should be left to pay the rather large tab as a lesson in deference to her elders and betters while he went in search of the real Julian Grey or some more reasonable substitute.
Grey’s tone went cold and flat as her blood dark eyes. “The former owner was haunting the place, scaring away the customers, breaking the equipment and beginning to physically assault the staff when I stepped in. He did not approve of their bringing in the cappuccino machine and had severe doubts as to the capabilities of a pair of freshly matriculated Americans with two young children in properly running this place.” She paused reminiscently then added, “He isn’t such a bad old boy for all that. I caught him playing with Kaitlyn while her parents busily cleaned up the latest mess he had made. Once he agreed to listen, I had a friend incarnate him long enough to try one of their concoctions, and helped them negotiate terms they could all…go on with. Then the excitement died down. He pops in now and again to check on them. He only manifests to Kaitlyn, usually. I believe he still prefers macchiato to cappuccino though.”
In spite of his stubbornness, Morland was not stupid. He caught the hints in the tale, most notably that if Grey was in University when the young woman behind the counter was in diapers, she had quite a few more years behind her than he did. Secondly, Grey had skills beyond the obvious court connections and talent for violence which formed the most part of his, rather her, reputation. Either that or she was a liar, a fraud, and probably part of the plot surrounding him.
For several minutes Grey left him with the scrambled mess that she helped to make of his thoughts, and made her way steadily through the range of calories, carbohydrates, and caffeine spread before them. Almost, Morland got lost in his own mind and started up his music again, forgetting Julian Grey and his intention of fetching help but he caught himself in time and the near miss gave new urgency to his need. Never before had his thoughts wandered so. It would be a great way to get killed if it happened on an assignment, or worse, a way to lose his mind entirely.
Morland wondered if Grey could read his thoughts when she spoke as the decision to trust her formed, but he hoped his concentration was not that bad. “Are you ready to tell me what’s biting you now?”
“Your hair and eye colors are natural aren’t they?” he asked and almost instantly wondered why. The question was so inane.
Grey, however, nodded as if it were the first intelligent thing he said the entire evening, “A legacy from my mother. I was lucky. One of my half brothers is bubble gum pink from head to toe. Even the whites and pupils of his eyes, and teeth have a pinkish cast.
Morland captured a deep breath for a few moments and nodded. “Julian Ialliam Grey. I am being hunted. I do not know by whom or for what reason. All I know is that the one after me is male, and his powers are completely beyond my realm of expertise. I know when he is nearby. He is like a jagged rock tearing into my mind, but I can determine no more than this. I feel him mostly at night while I sleep, and the longer this goes on the harder it is becoming for me to focus my mind. I have had to resort again to wearing gloves to prevent picking up visions from everything and everyone I touch, an expedient I have not needed since I started shaving regularly. My few contacts among the Other all deal with my own line of work and have gotten no farther than that the threat is most likely Fantastic in nature, though there are hints of the Gothic involved. Her Majesty’s paid servants who deal with the Other, in having all Her resources to draw upon, rarely achieve great skill as individuals, and could find nothing in my case on which to gain purchase, even hinting, ever so indirectly, that I was imagining things.”
For a moment, it seemed Grey’s second bowl of soup disagreed violently with her palate considering the way her face contorted and the extreme care she took in setting bowl and spoon aside. “And so you went through the time and trouble of tracking down Julian Grey, the great man ennobled by the Others for services rendered, heir to a title in his own right, and famous all over the world for single handedly slaying a moderate sized dragon of the non-sentient type in the middle of a small German town square with no weapon but a small dagger and wearing nothing but shorts, tank top, running shoes, and a lot of dragon blood where a libelous reporter with a quicker camera than wit could see and further confuse the question of my gender with his poor grasp of German grammar and pronouns from which all the other editions were translated.” Grey vented all in one breath though, perhaps, not legitimately all in one sentence.
Morland’s smile in response was small but authentic, and after a moment Grey smiled back when he responded, “Something like that, yes. Are you interested in the case? I understand that the fees in your area vary by the degree of the threat involved so in a case of the unknown like this, one begins with a flat rate by the day plus any medical costs, with the bulk to be paid on the determination of the scope of the issue. Does that sound agreeable to you?”
Grey’s response to the discussion of money was desultory, but then her mouse eating grin snuck across her face. “You said you sense your antagonist mostly at night.” She waited for Morland to acknowledge with a nod then went on. “Then it looks like I’ll be sleeping with you tonight. I hope you drove, because I would like to stop by my digs for a few things on the way back to your place and taxi men can be such nosy parkers about such things.” Without another word she bounced up from her place and over to say her good-byes to Kaitlyn and the rest while Morland stumbled to his feet. He noticed there seemed no hint of cash exchange in the goings on. It seemed that free food was part of the Heavenly Cup’s ongoing attempt to repay Grey for services rendered.
Looking around at the array of empty dishes she left in her wake Morland muttered, “The haunting must have been worse than she it sounded, or she comes by very rarely. Otherwise, they’re likely to go out of business with the way that she eats.” He looked up to find both Grey and Kaitlyn glaring at him from across the room. Peter Morland blushed and made his way outside to wait for Grey and wonder what on earth he was getting himself into.
Grey’s “digs” turned out to be no more than a single crowded room in a tiny bed and breakfast a few miles out of town. Either she had only just checked in or repacked the bag before she went to meet him. When Morland followed her into the second floor room with the high canopied bed and the country Victorian furnishings he found everything neat and tidy save for the large army green duffel sitting at the foot of the bed. Grey had to argue a bit to get the active white haired proprietress to accept the sheaf of notes she produced. Morland could not fathom where it had been hidden in her pocket-less brief sheath of spandex and latex. The lady kissed Grey on the cheek as they parted. Morland found himself following her around like a sleepy puppy, wondering about the odd feel he got from the elderly little woman.
Relative peace reigned on the drive back to town, where Morland had the opportunity to restore some form of order to the disarray this Julian Grey made of his expectations. Unfortunately, he was not quite able to do so. The persecution had a longer history than he admitted to anyone, much less this discordant note he invited unwittingly into his life. Beyond such immediate concerns as keeping to the left side of the road, watching for pedestrians, pets, and traffic signals, Morland found himself quite unable to force his thoughts into the order he desired.
“What have I allowed myself to become embroiled in? Julian Grey should have been a tall, slim, quietly dressed gentleman. Well, she is tall and slim, taller than you are even without those spikes on her boots. Yes, but she should be a he, an older, wiser head for one to turn to, not this teenage club cub. But she is not teenage and you both know and believe it. She is at least in her mid forties possibly older no matter what she looks like.”
With a slight jolt, Morland braked harder than was his want when the vehicle preceding him over reacted to a shift from green to yellow ahead and tried to drag his thoughts back in line. “Julian Grey was to have listened to one seriously, perhaps over a quiet cup of tea. She did give you tea, even if she drank coffee, and after a few sharp questions Julian Grey should go off and investigate, possibly including one in a bit of that fantastic mumbo jumbo. After all, if it didn’t fall into one of the other Other classifications you wouldn’t need help in the first place, in spite of how skeptical and derisive you may be about the validity of the magic dealing realms of interest. A couple of days after the initial consultation, maybe four at the outside, after all not everyone can be as efficient as you are, and there might have been the need to wait for the full of the moon or some other such nonsense, Julian Grey should explain the issue, and the problem should be dealt with neatly, cleanly, and finally. Then one could return home and finally get some real rest for the first time in months. Does she really plan to sleep with me tonight? Oh god, will she wear a proper night dress?” Morland glanced over at Grey, taking in the brief scrap of green spandex barely covering her breasts and the latex hugging her from the hips down to her boots with zippers from ankle to knee as well as standard at the front as the only way her feet could possibly fit through the narrowness of the cut and despaired.
With a sigh, Morland turned into the small parking garage where he kept his spotless Rabbit when he was at home. Another worry drifted through his mind. “Talking to yourself is not a good sign you know. I am not yet doing it aloud, and there have been indications talking to oneself may be a sign of higher intelligence. Many madmen are said to be above average intelligence.” Quietly, Morland led the way upstairs to his flat.
Automatically, once he entered the flat behind Grey the door closed and bolted, keys and wallet dropped into an odd, dark metal box on the table in the entryway, and he did a quick round of the antiseptic metal, leather, and electronically furnished rooms to make sure everything remained as he left it. The habit ignored the duties of a host to his guest, but then the situation never before had arisen. Peter Morland did not entertain guests. When filial devotion rose up within him, he would take his mother out, or visit her in the house of his childhood. His was a three bedroom flat, but one room contained his library and study, the second held his meditation circle and electronics workshop, and only the last contained the bed.
When he returned to the living room, Morland was forcibly reminded of his ‘guest’s’ presence. Her duffel sat open on his deep black couch. The latex pants were draped over the back. Her boots sprawled upon the floor behind it. She stood facing the ever-so-wide television screen. She could not have seen it, though. Her top paused at that moment over her eyes as she shifted her grip to finish pulling it over her head. Fortunately for Morland’s gravity and sanity, she quickly covered the only remaining article of clothing she wore, a V-back in a surprisingly somber shade of blue with a mannishly cut flannel shirt in dull green and cream which hung past mid thigh before she turned to face him.
Ignoring Morland’s incipient explosion, she asked, “Does your unknown visit you every night? Obviously I will have to stay awake, or at least aware, as I monitor you and even such as I can’t go more than a week or so without sleep and stay sharp.”
Her business like tone robbed his indignation of its impetus. Morland sighed his reply, “He began the night time visits once every week or so. Of late, it has been a nightly occurrence. I become aware of him as I begin dreaming. Though I am, by nature and training, a very lucid dreamer, while he remains I cannot wake and search for him.” Barely a hint of his fear and frustration touched his face. Grey, thoughtfully, ignoring that hint.
“I do not know your usual mode of night time apparel, but for my purposes, I must ask that you leave at least your upper body bare. Of course, complete nudity would be better.” Deliberately, she turned to pack away discarded garments before finishing the statement, giving Morland the chance to regain his composure before speaking.
Still, his breathing came a trifle faster when he spoke. “I do not think you understand, Dame Grey among other things. I am a contact clairvoyant, and I no longer have complete control of the talent. Much skin contact between us, or even that well-worn shirt you wear, could send me into a wash of visions from which I can surface only when released. In such a state, my antagonist could burn this building down around us, and I would remain unaware of it.”
Grey’s mouse eating grin crept out of where consideration had hidden it, touched with a decided superiority. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s get to work.” She patted one black clad shoulder as she passed and asked, “Your bedroom’s this way isn’t it? I assume you sleep in the master, and so many of these flats are laid out the same.”
Morland was not quite silent when he asked of an uncaring universe, “What the hell have I allowed myself to get caught up in?” But still he followed her, unbuttoning his cuffs.
Reluctance must have slowed his steps. When Morland entered his room, Grey already sat at the head of his wide bed. She leaned her back against the wall, legs bent, knees wide. The shirt he just unbuttoned and pulled free of the confining waist band gaped no more widely than hers. Morland paused, staring, one shoulder uncovered, and Grey scowled at him.
“Don’t worry I am not making a pass at you. Like yours, some of my talents work more strongly through contact. I have a fairly good idea of what’s been haunting you, but in order to make sure I’m going to have to walk your dreams. Besides, you would probably like to know who sent it and why, and that can’t be done without confronting the whatever-it-is.” He still stood frozen and Grey sighed. “Don’t worry about your visions either. The other reason for this is to keep you out of contact with the shirt. I am less than half-human and more than capable of keeping you from accidentally wandering my past. The thong is new and machine made. Strip as far as you’re going to and come over here. The sooner we get this begun the sooner you pay me and I go away.”
“I am not sure I will be able to sleep. I am unaccustomed to sleeping in company.” Morland said with stiff dignity. Calmly he shucked all but a pair of commonplace cotton boxer shorts, in spite of the curious way Grey watched him. He knew his figure was not match for Grey’s youthful athletic curves, but it hardly stood to scorn for a man of 35. He wondered what she thought of the scars and other marks of old violence he saw no sign on her skin. Some trick of her mixed genetics must include superhuman healing. Theirs was not a sedentary or uneventful profession.
Only a little tentatively, Morland took his place between her legs to pillow his head on her lower stomach. When visions came, some of the tension flowed out of him. Gentle fingers moved into his range of sight to trace the parallel scars running from the back of his shoulder down to his upper stomach from bottom to top. “These look like cat claws, but they’re too clean.”
He answered the implied question, “It was robotic.”
Morland felt her shift slightly and inferred a nod. He heard a slight, quick exhalation and the lights went out like blown candles. She rested her hands lightly on his pectoral muscles, and stretched her legs down his sides. “Go to sleep, Peter,” she whispered, and he did…
The transition from waking to dreaming happened so abruptly that his first sentence in the dream came out, “That was interesting,” before he had time to register where he stood. A long bureaucratic hallway stretched out ahead of him, a dead end stood just behind, and no doors or connecting corridors could be seen. He knew immediately he was not alone, though he saw no one else. The meeting with Grey had kept him awake later than usual that night, and it appeared his tormentor had waited up for him. “That is odd,” the words were just thoughts in the dream, but the part of him that still felt Grey’s arms and legs enfolding him heard them said out loud.
The same part was answered with a question, “What is odd?”
He started walking down the dream way, thinking, “If he was already here, waiting for me to fall asleep, why did I not feel him before?”
“That’s an easy one. Why don’t you wonder something more interesting, like why you are wearing that bright pink monk’s robe?”
Morland scowled, noticing for the first time the long full sleeves, deep cowl, floor length skirts and a significant lack of anything else he wore in the landscape within his mind. A couple moments thought dressed him in trousers, shirt, shoes, and appropriate undergarments, but he did not set aside the point made. “You constructed this dreamscape whole, did you not?” he said, not quite asking, and he felt his real shoulder patted, though the wrist was careful not to break contact. “Where does this corridor lead?”
“Go to the head of the class. There is a room at the end of the corridor, and if I do this right, the one haunting you should be inside.”
She paused a moment and he was about to propose another question when she added, “Please don’t ask any more questions. The one pulling your strings knows what he’s doing, and I don’t want to scare him away. This is not as easy as you think.”
Morland wanted to respond, “How would you know what I think,” but considering their method of communication and how obviously she occupied a portion of his mind, he aborted the thought unborn.
As is common in dreams, Morland kept walking for what seemed an unending age in the unchanging corridor until it suddenly ended in a heavy oak door. He reached for the metal ring which sat in the knob’s stead, but Grey’s voice stopped him. “Be careful once we are inside. I have been blocking out most of the effects as you approached, but once we engage, I won’t be able to spare that much of my concentration. Please don’t try to help me. What you’ll see is just your subconscious’ interpretation of a conflict happening on another level that I don’t have time or patience to explain just now.”
A trifle put out by her tone, Morland opened the door and stepped through into… his bedroom, and stared at himself, lying asleep on the bed. The heavy curtains he always kept tightly shut over the broad windows were missing, letting in a wide shaft of impossible moonlight illuminate his still form. At first, Morland thought he slept alone in the bed, but as he watched a translucent creature took shape out of the pale light.
Long fingered hands held his face and a bald, narrow skull bent down as if kissing his forehead. Without warning, the presence of the naked figure of moonlight grew opaque and solid. The monster and the pain of its presence within Morland’s skull both screamed with the change, sharp and merciless as a stiletto in the dark. The Peter Morland in the bed slept on, the face peaceful in spite of the ragged bleeding hole where the creature had fed. The Peter Morland by the door collapsed against the wall with both palms pressing against an injury not there, breathlessly not screaming in the agony the other did not feel.
Morland sat helplessly as pain blurred eyes caught the creature leaping from the bed towards him. Then there appeared the shadow of a second figure standing between them. Up until that point, only moonlight from the window and then the creature lit the room. The new figure brought with it a new light, etching her shadow more darkly on the wall. This was the light of a young sun made bearable by a gentle screen of leaves, crafted into curved shape of a sword raised to block the onslaught.
The creature almost impaled itself in the rush of its initial attack, but somehow it managed to shift trajectory in mid arc. Between one thought and the next, the bedroom vanished, and the second Morland with it. The walls receded to reveal an overgrown coliseum. The rows of anxious teddy bears lining the stone benches indicated that the Grey shadow with the summer-sword initiated the change, not the bloody mouthed moonlight nightmare. The pain diminished slightly with the change in setting, which could hardly be taken as a bad sign.
The two combatants faced off before him and the glowing monstrosity lashed out, feinting strikes, with taloned hands. Morland recognized Grey only by her shape. The initial darkness of her form did not lighten. She stood motionless, her sword held in both hands high by her head, parallel to the ground. Morland was caught unprepared when the creature darted suddenly to Grey’s left, aiming full speed for him.
Grey’s sword again blocked the way, transported as if by magic. This time there was no facing off. The creature truly turned to her. The two intertwined into a seething knot of violence. It took Morland a long moment to make sense of the roiling movement, but the moonlight seemed unable to mar the shadow, while each touch of the sword diminished the creature. Still, the swift ferocity of his longtime tormentor began forcing Grey back toward Morland.
When it seemed inevitable that Grey’s next dodge would send her falling backward over him, Morland crawled out of the path. He helped her, just like she told him not to. In an impossible jump, Grey sidestepped a two-handed lunge, trailing her blade through where she should have been, or at least she would have if her foot had not caught Morland in the stomach instead of passing through empty air. Off balance, Grey could not avoid the back hand blow which tore away a chunk of darkness from her side, revealing a dripping redness.
A rumbling scream of rage was torn free from her as well. The dreamscape snapped back into Morland’s bedroom. An overhand blow removed the creature’s head in a flash of mingled lights, and she turned to glare down at Morland, suddenly as real and solid as he in bare feet, cut off khakis and flannel shirt matted to her side with blood, with a plain steel sword in her hand dripping moonlight to puddle on the floor.
“I wanted to catch it, not kill it Morland. It is near impossible to question destroyed Sandmen.” With a frustrated sweep of her blade, she splattered all that was left of the Sandman across the room. It quickly melted back into the reflected sunlight from which it first formed.
Stoically, he rose to his feet, bracing himself against the wall as Grey paced around the room. Though the intensity faded to almost nothing with the dispersal of the creature, his head still throbbed with reaction. Ignoring that, Morland asked for want of anything else to say. “And what exactly is a Sandman? I assume the children’s tales of the man with his little sack is inappropriate to the case?”
Without stopping or looking at him, Grey deigned to explain. “It is a construct, mostly mindless, crafted of nightmare, usually a little bit of death, and some element associated with sleep, in this case, moonlight. Darkness, breath, and mist are more usual. It feeds on your dreams. In effect it prevents all the restful restorative things a body does during REM sleep. I could tell you how to make one, and all its limitations and all that, but it is rather beside the point. The point is that thing had a master, and there is not a single thing to stop that master from making another one and sending it after you tomorrow night except perhaps the time and effort involved.” She stopped pacing, and sighed, “Sandmen can be devilishly difficult to ward against if their master is clever, and even then he could just change tactics…” Grey drifted off, studying him. “Your head doesn’t still hurt does it?”
Morland shrugged, “It is nothing to be concerned about.”
“Oh it does.” To his surprise, Grey started, gradually, to grin. The grin turned into a giggle, and that grew into a full blown belly laugh.
“Not so clever…after all.” She gasped regaining control, and started studying the room intently. With a positively childlike joy she pounced on the door of his wardrobe, and dragged it open, sword poised.
With a disappointed raspberry, she lowered the weapon, and turned to plop down on the edge of Morland’s bed. That is not to say she was wrong. The Sandman’s master was hidden in the over-sized piece of furniture, but the figure who stepped out to meet them already held his hands in the air when revealed.
“Mortimer James Calloway! You promised not to play with normals anymore, no matter how much you were offered.” Morland could not decide which startled him more, the fact that Grey obviously knew the strange man with the young face and boyish curls of pure white, or the disappointed older sister tone she addressed to his tormentor.
“You can hardly call him a normal, can you Jig. He has a reputation to rival yours in his own sector, and it took me over a month to worm my way past his shields. You know that is almost unheard of for me.” As he spoke, Calloway’s hands moved to accent his words then fell to which Grey said nothing, to Morland, that “Jig” sounded suspiciously like an endearment.
With a sigh Calloway continued, “You’re going to make me break my contract and turn over my employer and all that aren’t you?” He had the effrontery to sound amused. Grey nodded. “And, if I refuse you will employ violence, pain, and other unpleasantries to convince me, won’t you?”
“I have been known to use such methods, yes.” She said with a mock solemn tone and twinkling eyes.
“So I really have no choice.”
It was obvious that this man was going to give them all the information they could possibly desire. However, the bantering gnawed at Morland’s frayed nerves. Also, the realization that this man who hounded him so long would be let go without any return of pain offended him somehow, even though the last of the headache faded when the wardrobe opened.
“You cannot seriously intend to just release this man once he answers your questions!” Morland broke into the conversation he no longer listened to. Grey and Calloway just looked at him with infuriatingly similar astonished expressions. Morland went on, speaking much louder than he intended. “He just admitted to perpetrating a slow diabolical attempt at murder for money.”
“Not murder,” Grey responded soothingly, and what she said next quite robbed Morland of speech, “Uncle Morty never does anything a mundane doctor couldn’t produce a full recovery from, though he does not inquire as to what his employers do once he softens someone up. He is almost totally amoral, but he does have some principals.”
“Quite so, young chap, don’t worry, I never consent to hit the same mark twice, either. It is no challenge. A few good night’s sleep should see you right as rain, and Jig here can set you up with some quite decent charms against any more jiggery-pokery of this sort.” Calloway’s tone was damnably urbane, but Morland regained control rather than push any further against apparent family bonds.
Calloway turned back to Grey and his interrupted sentence. “As I was saying, Jig, I don’t think you will have any trouble with the little scientist fellow who hired me. It seems your friend Morland got him into trouble over some great take over the world with super robot’s scheme or other, and now Her Majesty’s government keeps him on a rather short lead. He’s doing some damned good work for them, I understand, but he still bears the grudge. He kept babbling about how, ‘Those the gods would destroy, they first make Mad.’ or some such. I imagine a discreet word in the right ear among his keepers would do the trick.”
With a few more words of a mundane familial nature about visits, letters, and telephone calls, Grey let Calloway step out of Morland’s dream. Suddenly, he just felt so very tired and let down. He felt a gentle caress on his hair beyond the sleeping world.
“Are you going to want my help with the scientist?” Grey asked him gently, fading out of his mind’s eye.
“No, that is all right, I think I can handle what needs to be done.” He felt that shift that he interpreted again as a nod.
“I will stay and guard you tonight and leave in the morning then.” She returned her hand to his shoulder. “Get some rest,” she whispered, and he did.
It was difficult for Andrew Green to determine exactly what the nature of the emergency could be, not that he really tried very hard. When he was first brought to the ‘secret government installation’ Her Majesty’s servants made clear that while he was not under any circumstances allowed to leave the rooms assigned him, he would be encouraged to continue with his research as long as he proved willing to also explore any little avenues which they found interesting and while one of the purposes for all the guards, complicated defenses and security systems was to keep an eye on the scientist and artificer residents like himself, their real job was to protect said residents. They made sure that none of the people irritated by various failed attempts to take over the world could bother the residents with plots for revenge. Also, they prevented jealous rivals from sneaking in and stealing or sabotaging the geniuses.
In the end, if Green wanted to be fair about it, which of course he never would, the change in his circumstances was a distinct improvement. He was safer than his own defenses ever made him. He had no bills. The government provided all the vastly expensive and hard to come by materials he needed and on a more reliable and timely basis than had the black market for no cost except the time it took to fill out the forms. They no longer persecuted him, trying to find out what he was up to and stop him. The cooking provided was far better than what he could have managed (Do you realize how difficult it could be to get delivery to your super secret hideout?). Besides, it is not like Green went out much even before he was caught.
Of course, staying in because you are busy and staying in because you have no choice are two entirely different kettles of fish. And, though he spent a lot of time working on weapons as well as the advanced robotics, Green was never allowed to build or test them without ‘supervision’. They also stressed how he was in no way allowed to ever arm the robots they allowed him to keep with him in his lab. There was also his frustrated monomania at having to take anyone’s orders or ask anyone’s permission about anything which occasionally, like now, sent him rampaging through his high tech cage screaming at the top of his lungs in a bewildering jumble of languages. Yet, the sound of explosions, raised voices, and the harsh barking of various weapons penetrated the walls of his vault, with increasing volume, interrupting him mid-tirade and destroying his trains of thought.
With a petulant command, Green dispatched his two electro-mechanical assistants to carry another complaint to the guards. “It’s probably just one of the lesser scientists attempting, crudely, to escape again.” Grumbling much more quietly, he stamped his way back into his lab. Green was fully absorbed in his work within moments. He was attempting to improve the mechanism which extended and retracted the reinforced titanium claws his blasted keepers wouldn’t allow him to reinstall in the robots who served him. It still jammed sometimes at the top range of force the arm could put behind a thrust. Then the claws would have to be removed entirely for repair if the fingers were ever to be used again. The problem was moot as long as he remained a ‘guest’ in that government funded purgatory, but Green believed in planning ahead. He did not even notice when the robots failed to return until he asked one for a tool and the tool was not promptly delivered.
With a barely contained growl of pure rage at yet another distraction, Green charged out into the stairwell leading up from his vault to the triple locked and guarded door which led to the rest of a complex he had never seen (except through the security cameras whose feed he tapped among so many other things he was not supposed to be able to do). Green did not make it past the inner door before he tripped over the fallen form of his favorite of the two creations who served him, female formed and fully functional in esoteric ways which made his solitude easier to endure without the bother and trouble of a human assistant who might object. Green just had time to see the other robot crumpled halfway up the stairs and the unconscious guard leaned gently against the inside of the upper door when he felt another body step in close behind him while at the same time his arms were pinioned to his sides and a sharp blade nicked his throat.
The voice straight out of his nightmares and the target of so many of his tirades sounded harshly in Green’s ear, sending his world spinning with panic. “You know the saying, ‘Those the gods would destroy, they first make mad,’?”
Green did not dare nod his head lest he slit his own weasand, but Peter Morland’s voice continued on regardless. “Well you, Green, are no god, but you certainly did make me mad.” Without further ado, the blade traced a deadly line of fire deep into the neck, slitting esophagus and jugular with one swift stroke. Green felt his blood gushing down his throat into his lungs, drowning him even as he bled swiftly towards death with Peter Morland’s arm still holding him helpless.
Green woke choking and gasping, bound tightly up in the sheets the benevolent state provided and kept clean. Before he could calm his pounding heart and free himself he noticed the nude young woman with green hair and bloody eyes sitting at his feet, one hand resting lightly upon his bare ankle. If it were not for the early morning erection bound at a painful angle within his cotton cocoon, Green might have lost the sudden skirmish between toilet training and dignity on a panic stimulated full bladder.
“You may take this as your only warning. Morland knows about the one you sent after him and has dealt with the problem. This time he is content to let the authorities handle the recriminations. If there is a next time, he will not be so forgiving.” Grey patted the ankle lightly and stood.
She crossed over to the mirror hung on the back of the bathroom door by a previous ‘tenant’. She leaned close and exhaled slowly onto the glass. As he stared, strange designs in maroon, hunter, and silver, glowed a moment under her skin, then the reflected image flowed into a dark paneled room Green never before had seen. With a brief harsh glance back, she stepped through to that other room and the reflection returned just as it had been before.
The next morning when the guards invaded Green’s room to find out how he was contacting the world outside, they were surprised to find Green curled naked in a corner of the lab with his favorite robot and every mirror in the room smashed.