Night Of The Wolf – Part 30

But I might, Marceau now thought to herself. Somewhere into that darkened sea of blue that stretches for miles and miles. And when I get to the other side, I hope you will wait for me. It helped her to think of Cecile as often as she could between the bitter stings of loneliness and color. To envision that sweet, soft girl in the distance, untouched by the Machine Men and their metallic voices. Soon enough, she would be home free, and with a fresh regulator.

Marceau continued on through the sandstorm, creeping around a narrow mound of parts and to the left past a gutted bus. A Machine Man was patrolling the other side. She stopped and pressed her back against the front of it to peer around the corner. Another was approaching fast from the east. No time to move yet. Steady. She scooped a rock from under the wheel and hurled it behind her. It thudded off the roof. One of the machines leapt up onto the bus and slammed down hard, rattling the structure. Marceau ducked and slid beneath the wheel well. Her heart was racing so fast, she thought she might black out.

“Cecile, I know you’re waiting,” she sniffed. The Machine Man stomped toward the front of the bus and jumped back to the ground, planting its feet mere inches from her nose. The girl closed her eyes, about to accept her fate if it decided to lift up the vehicle. A metal hand grasped the bumper. “Not today!” she shrieked, rolling to her left as the bus rose above her. Marceau tore off the goggles and scrambled to her feet. She readied her sword. In a swift, fluid motion, she buried the blade into the back of the thing’s neck. Sparks rained down onto her, but she stood her ground. The machine bellowed an unintelligible sound and dropped the bus. She tore her sword free and ran back into the gusts of wind, cramming her goggles down.

A light blur approached from the west side as she neared her pile of scrap salvation. She charged the machine and leapt up to kick it down, slicing its head clean off as she went. Another came from behind. She slid to her back and planted the blade through its neck. Victory was within her reach in just a few more steps. Marceau raced over to the mountain of twisted metal, keeping a lookout through the gap. Both piles were flush against the wall, so she didn’t need to worry so much about the robots approaching from multiple directions.

She snagged two pocket watches from the scrap along with some phase unit parts—cogs, an old leather strap, batteries, the cleanest emitter assembly she could find, and a few wires of varying sizes she had to strip and cut to length. She fused most of it together with the emitter assembly to be sure it would spark. Success. Another skeleton lay pinned beneath several beams behind her, so she tore off its jacket to form a crude satchel in which to carry the parts.

“Sorry,” she breathed. “Not about to join you.”

Marceau tied the satchel to her shoulder and grabbed her sword for the journey back. She was finished with sneaking around, and that last bit of adrenaline from the bus hadn’t died down just yet. At this point, it would be easier—and safer—to stick close to the wall, rather than maneuver through the mountains of scrap in the center of the yard. The rest of the Machine Men would no doubt be more inclined to investigate their fallen comrades. She held her breath and snuck around the west pile and over to the wall. She drew her sword.

“Now or never.” Marceau envisioned Cecile. “I’m coming, my sweet girl.” She broke into a run, counting each pile as she went. There were about ten or so on this side until the main gate. Three came by with no incident. She dodged around a Machine Man at the fourth and continued on. Five, six, seven. Two more robots blocked her path at the eighth. Marceau jumped and sprung off the wall, somersaulting left and back into the center of the yard. They were catching onto her now, echoing their metallic chants from every which way. She flew past another mound of junk before one of them caught her satchel from behind and dragged her to the ground. Raising her sword, she cut the makeshift bag off her shoulder and kicked back to her feet, spinning around to land a hard blow on the back of its neck. Thank god for Dalishkova steel.

Marceau grabbed up the satchel, dodging another Machine Man blocking the gate. By now, she’d worked up enough momentum to get up the last pile and jump over the gate. Most of the mound was grating on the one side which had fallen to form a crude ramp, so it would be easy to run straight up and flip over, but the climb was steep.

“Here goes nothing,” she sighed, and ran as fast as she could. The first step nearly knocked the wind out of her, but she kept going. Her legs burned. The wind almost took her off balance, and yet she focused her mind on Cecile the whole way up. Up, up she went, kicking hard, though the grating crumbled behind her as two Machine Men pursued. All the way to the top. She prayed the wall was close enough. She prayed the parts she salvaged would work. She prayed she would make it back into her original body. She prayed she would see Cecile again. Please…

Marceau went airborne, feeling the brush of a metallic hand scratch her leg. She flipped up and somersaulted through the air, landing hard on her feet on the other side of the wall, safe at last. Pain rocketed up her legs and she fell to her knees. She double-checked the satchel to be sure all the parts were still intact and raised her arms in victory.

“YES!” she howled. “Yes, yes, YES! Fuck you!” But it wasn’t quite over yet until she reached the bunker, and those blasted heaps of clanging excrement were already pounding on the gate. If they broke through and detected her again, it would all be for nothing. She rushed back to the bunker and pounded the button until the doors slid open, making sure to reset the lock code once she was inside. The doors closed, and she slid down against them with a sigh.

Now it was time to get back to work. Cecile would be waiting.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 29

Marceau stirred as the intermittent banging noise continued on the bunker doors. She was phasing in her sleep again. Every morning was like waking up from anesthesia. A certain momentary awareness came and went, during which she’d feel a cold rush of air. The mattress beneath her disappeared and reappeared again in a torn state. Lights flickered on and off. Hypnagogic jerks often startled her awake at that point somewhere between the frequencies, and she could never be sure where she was. Several days of riding it out without her regulator had become torture. Once she was conscious enough to realize what was happening, she began to time the bangs on the door, counting the intervals between her phases.

“One, two, three, flash. One, two, three, four…flash. One, two, three, flash. One, two, three…now!” Marceau leaned over and reached for the injector gun on her desk before the next phase came and shot herself in the shoulder. She closed her eyes, listening for that terrible noise as she counted. Five seconds. Ten seconds. It didn’t return. “Back in Viktorium,” she sighed, propping herself up against the cold steel wall. She switched on the lights and looked at her right arm. The machine virus eating away at her flesh receded back down her bicep for now, though it had still managed to rise a little higher than the previous day. For better or worse, she was stuck with the constant reminder that her time was running out. “Fuck.”

The same infection had taken the others several weeks ago. Not that she’d been there to see it. Everyone was dead by the time she arrived. Soon enough, the great Marceau would be little more than a Machine Man herself, doomed to guard Tesla’s junkyard and protect the masses of the Metropolies from the very virus that claimed her—unless she found a cure. At this stage, it was doubtful. Still, it was nice to hope. She owed Cecile that much after lying to her. My sweet girl. I’m afraid the air is not so crisp here.

Marceau surveyed her room a moment to be sure everything was in order. Some of the frequencies she passed through during her phases had a tendency to look exactly the same, with minor variations. Even the dimensions of the room could be slightly off. She’d posted a large calendar on the wall to keep track of her flashes, as well as painting measurement tic marks across the middle of the floor. Thankfully, it remained the same seven-by-seven foot closet space she was used to. A loud bang came on the bunker door.

“Shit!” she shrieked, leaping out of bed. The floor was colder than expected on her bare feet. That meant the freezers were probably malfunctioning again, but it would have to wait. “You’d better not be an anomaly,” she sighed. She strapped a phase unit onto her wrist and headed for the door. Everything felt heavier without her regulator, and the weight of that steel behemoth was no exception. It took several tries to twist the centered wheel until she unlocked the bloody thing. “Goddamn it I’m an engineer, not a bodybuilder,” she cringed, pushing the door open just enough for her ninety-eight pound frame to fit through. She rushed up the few steps to the lab, flipped the breakers for the lights, and prayed as the holograph display booted up on her work table. A lone Machine Man flickered into view.

“Thank god,” she breathed. The robots only wandered outside the main gate of the junkyard if they detected something was amiss in the bunker. In this case, the malfunctioning freezers must have set them off, although Marceau’s presence in recent days was just as much a trigger. Another reason she needed a regulator—it scrambled her frequency enough so they wouldn’t label her an intruder. This, however, presented another problem. The parts she needed to construct a new regulator would have to be salvaged from the junkyard. That meant scaling the wall, unless…

“First thing’s first, let’s try to distract you, yeah? Freezer temperature is one degree Centigrade…damn.” She could dial it down as a temporary measure to draw the Machine Man away, but the conduits were still leaking cold air out of the coolers. She would have little time to sneak through the main gate and retrieve what she needed. If she was out too long and the temperature of the bodies rose too high, decomposition would reach a point of no return. After that, she could say goodbye to any possibility of returning to Viktorium permanently. Her own corpse had become something of a time capsule to her, a precious piece of herself she was desperate to preserve until such time she could inhabit it again. Even then, she wasn’t a hundred percent sure her plan for reintegration would work. The negative particle load on the piece of scrap metal she’d infected herself on was such that it tore across several frequencies. Committing suicide hadn’t been the solution she’d hoped for, although it saved her body and freed her to travel across other dimensions.

The girl wiped a stray tear from her cheek and focused back on the task at hand. “Lowering freezer temperatures manually,” she sniffed, jumping over the metal rail that separated the lab from the freezers. She set the dials back down and grabbed her cutoff trousers. The cold atmosphere of the bunker was something she’d grown accustomed to in recent days, so she was used to working in her underwear and a tank top. Hot oil and other mechanical parts provided enough warmth anyway. An irony that cold, unfeeling machines can give me comfort. And yet it was not the same as having Cecile with her. Soon.

The banging on the door ended abruptly as the holo grid showed the Machine Man turning away toward the main gate. Marceau snatched her goggles and head scarf off the work table, slinging a short sword over her shoulder as she rushed up the grated stairs to the bunker doors. She braced herself before pounding the button. A sandstorm was brewing outside, which meant lower visibility. She would have to fight off the Machine Man after the gate closed behind them. Phase units didn’t work on their reinforced casing. A direct blow to the back of their necks was enough to significantly disable them, but that only worked for a short period.

“Steady,” she told herself, and smashed the button. The doors slid open to a squall of whipping golden winds that nearly took her off her feet. Marceau adjusted her goggles. When paired with the regulator, she could see through almost any obstacle ahead, but the most they offered her now was protection from the elements. The dark blue hue at least showed the sandstorm in darker tones, while the Machine Man appeared lighter. Not ideal, but it worked. She would just have to stay within the gusts of wind to obscure her location.

Side-stepping into the flow of sand, she made her way forward, making sure to keep the robot in her sights. The Machine Men walked at a relatively slow pace unless they detected an immediate threat. Marceau considered kneeling down for a rock to hurl at the gate in hopes the thing would go faster, but thought better of it—their sensors could pick up on any movement coming from behind. She took to counting its steps to calm herself until it reached the door, following along in a zigzag pattern.

“Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen…come on, you metal hunk of shit,” she muttered under her breath. Her patience wore even thinner once she realized her counts weren’t accurate. “Fuck it.” Marceau grabbed her short sword and plowed through the gusts as the Machine Man neared the control panel. She got just close enough for it to enter the code, then waited until the gate began to open. Time to move. In a swift, calculated motion, she leapt up and allowed the wind to carry her spin, slicing through the air to land a hard blow on the back of the robot’s neck with her sword as it stepped through the gate.

“INTRUDER-!” The thing fell, bellowing in a metallic voice. Marceau somersaulted ahead and landed on her feet just in time to hear the gate crunch the machine in two behind her. A shower of electric sparks shot out, scorching her left shoulder. She winced and brushed them away. Son of a bitch. More of those ugly tin cans would be along soon enough to investigate. For what it was worth, at least the burns set off a nice bit of adrenaline. She continued on through the blur to locate her preferred pile of scrap on the west end of the junkyard.

Clangs of metal echoed in the distance as the machines went about their work, hurling heavy beams and crunching unusable parts into cubes. A large conveyor belt ran overhead on the north side, which was where most of them tended to congregate. Marceau clutched her sword tight and turned left around a tall assortment of jagged metal grates to be sure the coast was clear. Two Machine Men blocked her usual path, tearing parts from on old rusted clock. She was about to turn away and maneuver around them until something curious caught her eye. A lone skeleton lay buried beneath the clock, and a decaying foot poked out of the sand just a few feet further. The uniform on the skeleton was similar to those she had seen on the dead bodies in the freezer back at the bunker. These were not intruders, they were scientists who had worked maintenance on the machines.

“The plot thickens,” she whispered. One of the Machine Men dropped the clock and turned to face her. “Shit!”

“INTRUDER!” the robot bellowed through its casing. Marceau whirled around to see a third machine bounding toward her. She charged back, turning to the right of the screaming beast as he reached out to grab her, and sprung off the clock to the left, narrowly avoiding the one behind him. She whipped around the back of the pile and weaved right. The Machine Men were already bounding overtop of the metal heap to catch her, sending an avalanche of parts careening downward as they went. She dipped down and grabbed a handful of sand to toss in the air. It managed to throw them off her trail until she could hide behind a rusted-out Model T across the way. Marceau knelt to catch her breath.

“Fuck!” she whispered, pressing her forehead to the pommel of her sword. The scrap parts she needed were still two mountains away. She closed her eyes and listened to her own heartbeat pound in her eardrums. If she were to die out here alone, no one would ever find her. Cecile would never know what happened either. It would be as if she never existed. Not that it mattered. Marceau already felt like enough of a ghost to the outside world. Oh get a grip, she told herself. Not today.

The girl opened her eyes and rose to her feet, braving the gusts of gold until the clanging noise of the Machine Men faded far behind. She’d been walking through the dark for most of her life. This was no different, and yet the irony of color in her goggles amused her. She certainly felt just as blue in recent days. Navigating the sea of faces in Cavarice was akin to dodging the light wherever it stood, weaving in and out of intermittent periods of blinding black. But the brightest color in her world was undoubtedly Cecile. That girl was her sole reason for staying. Until they’d met, Marceau had very nearly resigned herself to death.

Mayor La Cour had hosted a birthday party some months ago for Vice Mayor Beatrice Castile. Marceau happened to be in the Metropolies at that time, observing the masses as she did whenever she got lonely. She’d stuck close to the Dispatchers when they did their rounds in the mansion. Not the most comfortable tactic, but one that proved necessary. Her regulator was not yet aligned properly, so she wanted to test whether or not they could detect her. If so, she could always duck into the nearest bedroom.

During her tour of the second story, the voice of a young girl caught her ear from behind a closed door. She seemed to be arguing with a male suitor, so Marceau had torn away from the squad of Dispatchers to listen in. When the door swung open, she learned it was not a male suitor, but her father. She was being belligerent and refused to come down for the party. The mayor let out a huff and plodded back downstairs with the Dispatchers in tow. Before the beautiful girl came to shut the door, Marceau managed to slip in and watch her from afar.

“‘It’s just a party, Cecile,’” the girl mocked, throwing off her shoes as she plopped in front of the vanity mirror. “It’s never a party when that rat bastard is here! ‘A blossoming girl like yourself should feel privileged for male attention!’ Maybe I don’t want male attention Daddy, you ever think about that? Women are supposed to be able to do whatever the bloody hell they want in Viktorium. Maybe I’d like a woman instead.”

By then, Marceau was holding back a smirk as she neared the mirror. Everything about this girl was perfect, and she was about to see just how perfect. The straps of her dress came off around her shoulders. It slipped downward over her chest exposing her cleavage, and then the tops of those two lovely, creamy breasts, almost to the nipple. That’s when the young traveler made her move with a single whisper in Cecile’s ear.

“Can I keep you?”

The girl reacted as suspected, immediately covering herself in terror.

“WHAT THE BLOODY HELL—”

“Shhh,” Marceau went visible and covered her mouth. “Don’t be frightened, I’m not here to hurt you. I’m a Dispatcher, I’ve been watching over you.”

Cecile giggled. “I doubt that. Besides, aren’t you a little short for a Dispatcher? What, do they recruit pervy little boys to spy on me now?”

“I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.”

“Take those stupid goggles off, they’re not helping.”

Marceau obliged.

“You’re Asian?”

“Japanese.”

“Pretty.”

“Don’t ever call me that. Ever.”

“Then what shall I call you? Handsome?”

“You can call me Marceau,” the girl smiled.

“I’m Cecile,” she said, shaking her hand. “Marceau…that’s more of surname, isn’t it? And how the hell did you get in here?”

“It’s…a long story.”

“If you tell me, I promise not to have the Dispatchers escort you out. Besides, I’m certainly not going anywhere, trust me.

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Night of the Wolf – Part 11

Gretel stared at the dark storm clouds gathering over the Metropolies district through the domed glass ceiling of Tesla’s lab. Under normal circumstances, she would have felt energized by this particular weather pattern. Instead, she felt drained, and for more reasons than one. Her journey home the previous night had taken several unexpected detours. First, she’d found herself in the throes of battle with a rather curious girl named Marceau, who claimed to be from another frequency. Second, she was questioned by a squad of Dispatchers upon attempting to access a secret security tunnel which would have gotten her back to the lab faster. And third, even after a series of frantic calls forced the squad off her trail to protect the wall, she discovered that the tunnel was sealed halfway down anyway. Upon arriving back to the lab, she found Tesla wide awake, and understandably quite furious. “We will discuss this in the morning,” he had said.

She had been sitting in his specialized electric chair for almost ten minutes now as the inventor paced about the room in a fit of anxiety. The silence was maddening. If he didn’t say something soon, she was about to send a bolt of lightning up through the ceiling to break the glass and shatter the tension by force. But as it was, she had exhausted the majority of her energy fighting off that stupid girl. She needed to recharge, and soon.

“Just what the hell were you thinking?!” the man blurted out. “You could have gotten yourself killed!”

“The phase unit works,” Gretel replied, clenching her teeth.

“That’s not the point! Do you have any idea what would have happened to you if it hadn’t? Or, god forbid, if it backfired?!”

“But it didn’t. Besides, you ought to thank me-”

“THANK you?!- ”

”We now know what the test runs couldn’t tell us!” the girl shouted. “It works.”

“Goddamn it!” the man wiped the sweat from his brow. “It is dangerous for you to be out there alone, do you understand?!”

“I thought we moved past this. You said you trusted me.”

“It isn’t you I don’t trust,” Tesla sighed.

“I can take care of myself without using my powers. I know to call the Dispatchers-”

“Come here, let me show you something,” Nikola cut her off, stepping over to his work desk to swipe an array of metal parts off a stack of papers. Gretel stood and joined him as he spread ten of the sheets out on the table and flicked on the lamp. It was a listing of time stamps arranged in rows of thirteen each, with matching dates and coordinates for every line. “Notice anything off about those numbers?”

“Looks like energy fluctuations in the power grid…not all of them were caused by our coils.”

“Exactly. Which means that somehow, somewhere, there is an anomaly the Dispatchers have been unable to catch.”

“And you think it will be drawn to my electrical energy, is that it?” She stared at him. The inventor sighed. “That’s all the more reason for me to be out there! I could help them destroy it.”

“It’s more likely you would get caught in the crossfire. It’s suicide, Gretel! I need you here.”

“We can’t just sit idly by anymore while these things wreak havoc on Viktorium. They’re getting stronger. You know that, right? Eventually, we’re going to have to ramp up weapons production.”

“It’s a fact I’ve hoped to avoid for some time. I refuse to be as reckless as Charles. Weapons production was his department of expertise, not mine. Although I suppose I’m not entirely averse to the idea of reconnaissance for now…I do have a few ideas as to where we might start. Not that I am by any means comfortable with you going out there.”

“And that would be?”

“Mayor La Cour, for one.” Tesla backed away from the table and began pacing again.

“That’s why wants his own phase unit…” Gretel thought aloud. “He doesn’t feel safe. Those timestamps correlate to his location as he moves. If you look at yesterday’s dates, he was strolling around Morcourt when the power flickered. My god, it all makes sense now! The increased security from last year, staggered public appearances, the main Dispatcher units drawn farther away from the Metropolies and as far down as the Barreau District…what frequency are the fluctuations?”

“705 Hertz.”

Gretel’s heart immediately sank. She had resigned last night not to speak a word to the old man about her chance encounter with that strange girl who called herself Marceau, and yet this was much too close for comfort. 705 Hertz was the same frequency she had zapped her young friend back to, and to know that girl was possibly the one causing these fluctuations gave Gretel an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Of course she would be the one going into the field, not Nikola.

Yet still, something rubbed her the wrong way about the possibility of hunting down Marceau. What would happen if they were to meet again? As it was, it didn’t seem as though the girl had hurt anyone. Harmless fluctuations were harmless fluctuations, and it wasn’t their job to keep track of the anomalies themselves. But Gretel understood the danger all the same; Constance Renou demanded monthly reports of any power flux that occurred on the Metropolies grid. If she were to discover that they were harboring knowledge of any not caused by Tesla’s experiments and did not inform her, they were screwed. The woman had already threatened them with eviction on several occasions, talking up her own scientists, whom she claimed were just as competent as Tesla himself. It didn’t help, either, that Renou owned the patents for every piece of Dispatcher technology. She could easily put an end to all their hard work in the blink of an eye.

Gretel felt torn between protecting a potential friend and protecting her mentor, whom she loved as a father figure. He had treated her better than her own parents ever had, and yet it seemed her own coming of age was driving a tangible rift between them. Tesla had grown naive and ever more reclusive since Charles’ exile, and so where danger lurked, she did her best to encourage him to step up. But the way she saw it, they did have two distinct advantages. For one, Marceau was not an anomaly, and therefore not an immediate threat. Off-chart fluctuations, though they certainly existed, were a rare occurrence at this juncture. And two, Constance Renou had no knowledge of the phase unit they had built for Mayor La Cour. There was still time to prepare for the worst possible scenario.

“So how do we proceed?” Gretel asked. “The unit it ready. I can tinker with it if need be, adjust the frequency to match.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Tesla shook his head. “We’re not going to give it to him. Not just yet, and certainly not with the welcome gala around the corner. This kind of technology is incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands, especially with the possibility of the Outlanders having returned to the city. Do you understand why my concerns for you are twofold?”

“Noted,” the girl rolled her eyes. “But these problems are bigger than either of us. For better or worse, we’ve inherited them, just as the rest of this city has inherited the failures of Charles DuPont. Somebody’s got to keep watch over the innocent and hold those in power accountable. And who better than the two of us?”

“We’re not superheroes, my dear,” Tesla smirked.

“Well, you’re not. I’m not entirely sure I am either. Doesn’t mean we can’t help them whenever they do come along.”

“What the devil are you talking about?”

“I’m not sure,” Gretel shook her head. “Just a feeling, I suppose. I’ve got to collect my thoughts.” She got up from the chair and made her way across the lab back to the large steel door of her room.

“Don’t take too long,” Nikola called. “Storm will pass in about fifteen minutes. I’d like to charge the coils before then.”

“I know. I’m on it.”

Gretel twisted the wheel on the door to unlock it and stepped over the threshold, closing the hatch securely behind her. She turned on the light. The room was little more than a closet space with a bunk bed, a work table, and a few shelves for books, but she didn’t mind. She always did enjoy a bit more solitude than most. Moving for the bed, she knelt down and lifted up the end of her mattress to retrieve the burnt, shredded hunk of Dalishkova gauntlet that had adorned Marceau’s wrist the previous night.

For a while, she sat there with it on the floor, running her delicate fingers over the rough textures. Curious. There seemed to be a bit of power still emanating from it, though markedly faint. It was similar in nature to that which had come from the amulet she’d received from Ermina on the subway, though she did not sense this was an object intended for direct influence. It did, however, possess some type of electromagnetic charge. Gretel closed her eyes and allowed the power to surge through her in an attempt to amplify the resonant frequency. Much of the circuitry was fried, but she was able to charge it just enough. A loud metal clang startled her out of concentration, and the shock was so strong that it sent waves vibrating up her arms. She immediately dropped the device and looked down in awe.

She’d left a butter knife on her work table earlier that morning after eating a biscuit, and somehow it seemed to have flown several feet across the room and attached itself to the gauntlet. Gretel held the hunk of metal up to the light to get a closer look. She tried prying the knife off with all her might, yet it did not budge until she sent another surge of electricity through it to reverse the polarity. So that’s how you moved your sword so fast.

“Marceau, who are you?”

The lights flickered.

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House of Rats – Part 14

Cecile La Cour quite enjoyed being a flirtatious girl, though she knew she wasn’t quite as flirtatious as Lucien Riviere hoped. His gaze barely wavered an inch from her rear end the entire way up the grand staircase. Even when she couldn’t see him, she felt those piercing blue eyes of his burning something fierce into her being. This would not have bothered her so much had she not grown romantically conflicted over the past month.

As it happened, it was not a boy, but a young girl who had recently zapped into her life and stolen her heart. She was not yet sure what to make of it. Marceau was a bit of an enigma in her own right, but Cecile had never before been attracted to a woman. Anyway, she hated to regard her love in such trivial terms as gender. All she knew was that for some reason which defied all logic, she had fallen quite madly for the tech-savvy traveler.

This presented a major problem. Marceau existed on a separate frequency altogether. Things were…complicated, to say the least. While it did work out well for hiding from the disapproval of Cecile’s father, it also made having a relationship that much more difficult—talking to an empty room was like talking to a ghost. To make matters worse, the Dispatchers had caught on to Marceau’s signal two weeks prior and promptly increased security for the welcome gala as a precaution. They thought she was an anomaly. Two units had thus been assigned to monitor the La Cour family at all times, which should have made her father sleep easier. Of course the man still insisted on commissioning Tesla for a phase unit. It all seemed poised for disaster.

From a practical standpoint, Cecile knew she should be with a young man like Lucien, if only he were born of wealth and privilege. Most of the finer points were there—charisma, passable intelligence, leadership qualities, pride, loyalty, and dashing good looks. Even better, he was a close friend of the family. Money, however, was a luxury he did not have. Not that she cared. So long as she was happy, Cecile was the kind of girl who could date someone with holes in their pockets. But all of her friends were courted by wealthy men. She had her reputation to consider. Besides, Lucien always managed to make her feel more than a bit uncomfortable.

“I’m going to do the talking here, yeah?” she heard him whisper to Bernard. “So you’d better linger far enough behind.”

“Sure, whatever.”

Cecile sighed as she heard the boy’s footsteps coming up fast to match her pace. The other orphans trailed along seven feet behind. She wondered if Marceau was watching them, though the lights hadn’t flickered for some time now. Perhaps her lover was leading the Dispatchers on a chase to the opposite end of the building. The petit traveler enjoyed toying with them. Cecile thought it reckless of course, only because she worried. But Marceau seemed like the type who could handle herself.

“How have you been since we last spoke?” Lucien inquired.

“Not bad. Stressed more than anything. You know my father and his silly welcome galas. Everything always has to be perfect.”

“He does a beautiful job. You ought to be proud,” he smiled.

“Nonsense! His advisors do most of the work. He lifts a finger for the table order, that’s about it. And how about you, Mr. Riviere? I heard you caused quite the scuffle this afternoon.”

“You heard about that, eh?”

“Casanov’s show is a guilty pleasure of mine. So you’re a hero. Congratulations!”

“Yeah,” Lucien cleared his throat, “but let’s just say that not everyone on the Dispatchers force made things easy. There’s a certain friend of yours who shouldn’t be working the wall.”

“Pontius?” Cecile chuckled. “He’s a bit rough around the edges, but he’s the friendliest man I know! We’ve been acquainted since I was a little girl. He’s very loyal to us.”

“Loyal as a dog. Although that’s probably an insult since dogs could do better.”

“Watch it!” she pushed him. “I could have you thrown off the premises like a common criminal.”

“You wouldn’t do that.”

“No?”

“You like me too much,” Lucien grinned.

“I don’t quite think you know what I like.”

“Of course I do. The same things all girls like.”

“And that would be?”

“Power and prestige. Neither of which I have…yet,” he sighed. “But someday.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure. What do you call your band of Merry Men trailing close behind us?”

“At least you think I’m funny.”

“That wasn’t a joke,” Cecile insisted. “People respect you, and that’s something. Still, I wish humor was all it took. Not my choice, you understand. Father can be so demanding.”

“Perhaps he’s just demanding with you because he can’t force his will elsewhere.”

“Well, I am his daughter. And that’s not entirely accurate. Daddy’s been working on pushing through a few reforms that could improve this city for the better,” she explained as they rounded the corner of the balcony. The lights were beginning to dim ever so slightly.

“Such as?”

“The reinstitution of the Dispatchers Training Programme, for one. There aren’t as many volunteers anymore, and it’s not something the wealthy want their sons taking part in. They’ve got their universities to attend, their girls to court.”

“I wouldn’t know. Us poor sods in the Barreau block aren’t good enough for that.”

“Of course you are. Daddy’s been trying to revitalize the canal properties for years and get everyone into proper schools, but he keeps getting shut down by that insatiable bitch Constance Renou. She’s always arguing about extending the lines for business transit. Pretty soon, we won’t have any business left. No wonder the city of Helias refused to sign our last trade agreement. They know as well as my father that those properties are a gold mine, but she won’t have it.”

Lucien frowned. “Anyone else pulling his strings?”

“Not that I could name off the top of my head. I’d have to look at the gala list.”

Cecile had elected to show the boys a small exhibit of artwork set up in the Green Room which had been carefully selected from the finest painters and photographers in all of Cavarice. But the farther they walked, the more the lights overhead began to flicker, and the more nervous she became. Any moment now, a unit of Dispatchers would be rushing their way to insist she return to her bedroom at once and lock the door. Never mind the fact that anomalies—and Marceau—could travel through walls.

She was getting annoyed, too, by Lucien’s presence. He joked quite a bit and possessed a very charismatic attitude, but it was obvious the boy had ulterior motives which her father was too blind to see. What those motives were was anybody’s guess. She didn’t care for the way he treated Bernard or the rest of the orphans either. Like they were his personal slaves, or some sort of burden he sought release from.

Cecile longed to be in the arms of Marceau again, if only to escape and be assured her girlfriend was safe. Of course, she had planned this particular tour route around the location of her bedroom just in case the Dispatchers came along. Sure enough, hurried footsteps could be heard echoing down the hallway adjacent to them just as she pulled the golden key from around her neck to open the gallery doors. But of course it wasn’t the key to the gallery at all—it was the key to her bedroom. The timing was too perfect.

“Miss La Cour! Miss La Cour!” the shouts came as the three men rounded the corner. Everyone except Cecile turned to address the commotion. The mayor’s daughter simply leaned back against the wall, swinging the chain with the golden key around her finger.

“Let me guess,” she rolled her eyes. “ ‘Get back to your room, Cecile.’ ”

“We reckon that’d be safest, Miss,” the captain huffed.

“And you boys do realize that anomalies can travel wherever they please? My door is not going to stop them.”

“That’s why we post guards at the end of the hall. Until the flickerin’ stops.”

“Until the flickering stops,” Cecile laughed. “I’ll be sure to let you all know when my love life needs rescuing.”

“Miss?”

“Forget it. It’s over your heads,” she sighed, turning to Lucien. “I’ve got to go.” Several of the orphan boys began to whine.

“Please, can’t we see the Green Room just once?” Tomas asked.

“I’m sorry,” Cecile stepped over, tousling his hair. “Maybe I can sneak you up during the welcome gala. For now, I’ve got to abide by the good captain’s orders.” She eyed the man with contempt. “And there’s this dreadful dinner I have to get ready for soon.”

“Are we invited?” Lucien asked.

“You wouldn’t want to be. Some ridiculous fundraiser affair, but it’s how Daddy gets his money to fight off Renou in the coming elections, so…”

“I understand,” the boy frowned.

“You all can find your way back down? There’s another stairwell just up this hall.”

“We’ve got it, m’lady,” Bernard smiled and kissed her hand. Though his skin appeared darker beneath the flickering lights, Cecile swore she could detect a rosy blush in the African boy’s face. It was certainly more flattering than Lucien’s approach.

“See you at the gala, Bernard,” she hugged him.

As the last of the Barreau boys exited the hallway, Cecile rushed over to her room and locked the door behind her, leaning back against it. Her bedroom at Morcourt was inexplicably cold no matter what the outside temperature was. Goosebumps radiated over her soft skin in the dark, shapeless shadows. All was quiet now, save for the Dispatchers jabbering on down the hall about anomaly charts. She lit a candle on her bookshelf to carry over to the nightstand, where she plopped down in bed. A slight buzz sounded in the air to her right, almost like a fly, but quieter.

“I know you’re here,” she whispered. The buzzing noise encircled her on the bed, causing her skin to tingle. A mischievous grin spread across her face. “Feels nice.” Suddenly, it stopped. A hushed voice emerged from the darkness and seemed to echo from across the room, though Cecile couldn’t pinpoint exactly where. Whenever she spoke with Marceau, she always questioned whether or not she was going crazy. Did the voice come from within her own head or from outside? It could very well have been both.

“Why do you entertain that boy?” the traveler asked.

“It’s just gala business,” the girl sighed. “And Daddy thinks highly of him.”

“Lucien is dangerous.”

“He’s just a boy.” The lights flickered on and off. “Marceau!” Cecile protested, sitting up. “Really now, I wish you would stop this. It makes it so hard to talk when I can’t see you.”

“I can’t dial down for extended periods of time, I’ve told you. That’s the risk you take when you date someone who lives on a separate frequency. Why don’t you join me? The air is nice and crisp here.”

“Come on, you know I can’t do that,” she smiled.

“Why not?”

“You know why, Marcy.”

“So you would still choose Lucien over me-”

“No, definitely not Lucien!” She could follow the voice now as it traveled in distinct directions, first above her, past her face to the right, then the left. Wherever Marceau was, she had taken to pacing back and forth.

“But anyone else. Someone you can feel and see with your own eyes.”

“Maybe if you chose to live in the real world with the rest of us, things would be easier.”

“How?” Cecile felt the girl’s breath hot in her face. “We would still have to hide because your father wouldn’t approve of you being with a girl anyway.”

“That’s not his decision to make.”

“Then whose is it, Cecile? You’re seventeen. You’re a big girl. You don’t have to stay here.”

“I wish it were that simple.”

“Isn’t it?” The girl finally appeared visible in front of her and knelt down at the side of the bed to hold her hands. Cecile leaned in to kiss her softly.

“Not quite. You sure you can’t dial down for longer? I just want to be with you,” she said, stroking her girlfriend’s face and brushing over the stubble on her shaved head. She thought it a most peculiar thing that a young girl would want to be free of all her hair, but Cecile didn’t mind. Being with Marceau felt almost the same as being with a boy—or at least it seemed less confusing to think of it that way.

“I know, baby,” the traveler kissed her hand. “But I have to conserve power. Plus it’s dangerous for me, I risk scrambling my frequency and getting lost. Now if I could get my hands on that phase unit your father ordered from Tesla, it might be a different story.”

“But he doesn’t even have it yet,” Cecile sighed, laying back and pulling the girl on top of her. They kissed again.

“I don’t need the actual unit. Just the blueprints.”

“The blueprints won’t arrive for another week. Anyway, Daddy keeps things like that locked in his safe. Even if I knew the combination, I have no clue where the safe even is in this building.”

“Could you find out?” Marceau asked, planting kisses down her neck.

“I guess I could ask, but…god, would you stop?” the mayor’s daughter giggled. “I can’t say no when you do this!”

“I know,” the traveler grinned. “So is that a yes?”

“Fine. Yes.”

“That’s my girl,” Marceau whispered. “Sweet girl.” She pressed her warm lips to Cecile’s one last time before zapping away without a trace. All the lights in the room immediately flashed on. The bulb overhead broke, sending glass raining down on the bed. Cecile shrieked and scrambled to the closet, then froze. She listened to the air for a moment. There was no more buzzing noise, no more flickering. No more echoing voices and no more temperature shifts. Dead silence. Her girlfriend was gone.

“Goddamn it, Marceau!”

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