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Part 6 -here
Part 7 -here
Consciousness was a hard mistress as the Lady Pearl’s eyes fluttered open. She remembered a lot of light and pain then the world ebbed away as the mass of people converged in a strange haze as if slipping through a dream or on a really crappy television during a rainstorm. Then, darkness.
Rather impressed to still find her disguise on she rose carefully, blood still uncertain of where the best places to pool were. This is normally where one would say that their vision swam or did other interesting water acrobatics but the Gogo clan was known for having no truck with metaphors and through sheer willpower she brought her surroundings into focus as other groans and murmurs of “Mommy, save me,” stewed around her.
Level 500 and its teeming mass were long behind them. Instead of the curious mixture of sweat, cooking spice and butane it was disinfectant burning upon the nose and the constant buzz of voices just above normal speaking range were silenced to the beep and blip of machinery and whispers which somehow managed to seem even louder here. The blinding white floors, uncomfortable bed, and strange religious symbol nailed to the wall could only add up to one thing: hospital.
She would ask exactly where they were, but it seemed to matter little as she hadn’t been certain where they were before. Pearl slid off her bed, cursing the lack of peripheral vision, turning her head in exaggerated fashion to take in the large healing ward the severely diminished group found themselves curled up in. Beside her plugged in to her own stretcher Hellena lay, her arms twitching and pawing at her nose in the midst of what looked like a nightmare.
“Hellena. Are you all right? Wake up!” the last part emphasized with a quick jab of her finger.
“Wha?” the amazonian’s eyes slid open, “I was having the best dream. There was running and swinging and I think the bounty hunter was there.” She looked down at all the wires crisscrossing her chest and stomach.
Pearl put her hands up, “I wouldn’t remove them just . . .” with one quick swoop the warrior stood tearing all of the wires free from their dueling machines (who weren’t actually doing anything important and had started up a rather exciting game of pong to pass the time), “never mind.”
Hellena ripped off the wires glued to her skin the pain forgetting to register and being left out in the foyer to stew, “So, where are we now?”
Pearl opened her mouth to explain how she had no idea and it didn’t really matter anyway as they had no ideas where they started at when a woman appeared seemingly from nowhere, “I can tell you that.” She was dressed in a blue skirt number, her dark hair pinned up in an all business manner but the plastered smile and large nametag spoke differently, “This is the seventh infirmary on this ward, generally reserved for those that have motion or transporter sickness. In the year 560 of the Argonian calendar it was used to house the spill over from the space boil plague victims.”
The women’s mouths hung agape, both blinking slowly before exchanging a look. Hellena shrugged, and in doing so realized something vital was missing. “Hey, where’s my big stabby?”
“Beg pardon?” the new woman asked, her smile never wavering.
For the first time since meeting her in that cantina thousands of words back the Amazonian panicked. “My sword, it’s really big and scary and if I lose it the Godmother will have my head on a casserole.” She began to dig through the back of her bed and Pearl’s even though there were very few places for a 7 foot long sword to hide.
“Godmother? As in fairy?” Pearl asked, smirking beneath the cool exterior.
Hellena’s head popped up from beneath the tossed mattress, “Oh gods, you used the F word!” she whipped her head around not caring that the Godmother was millions of light years away and probably didn’t have too many spies on the space station.
Turning her attention back to the woman Pearl asked, “Who are you?” a phrase that was fast becoming her most popular.
For a moment she paused, her script broken. “No one’s ever asked my name before,” her eyes welled like saucers (which was really strange to think as no one had seen a saucer in over 5,000 years since the great Tea Wars). She started to hop from one foot to the next clapping her hands before rushing forward to envelop Pearl in a giant hug. “I’m Erica, tour guide number 6794.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Pearl gasped out through her surprisingly crushing hug. She nodded towards Hellena who was doing her best to maintain a calm by throwing things at the wall “This is. . .”
Erica cut her off, back into business “Hellena, of the Heavenly brood from the feared and traitorous Amazonians. Fresh off the transit PSS Harbringer in search of the . . .”
In the middle of throwing the machine to measure heart rate and play Angry Birds Hellena turned on the woman, “How do you know that?!”
“It’s my job,” she cocked her head and raised an eyebrow (she’d spent months working on it) “I am trained to know how best to serve all who require a tour guide through the station.”
Pearl paled under her mask, “And me, what do you know about me?”
She turned, fearing that she said something wrong, “Only what the registry at disembarkation said. You are a Lady Pearl and you brought exactly no luggage with you.”
Thankful for the necessary disguise Pearl breathed again before asking, “Then how did you?”
“How do you know all the stuff about me?” Hellena butted in, trying to put fear into a government official, which bounced off like a super ball.
Erica sensing the growing tension slowly raised one hand to her ear and with a ‘please don’t be mad’ face pulled a small metallic object no bigger than a quatloo (which is the size of a dime but saying something’s the size of a dime doesn’t seem very spacey) from out of her ear. It buzzed almost out of hearing range in a surprisingly soothing fashion, “The latest in teleconferencing. It allows the user to synch up with the onboard computer and any others in the vicinity to retrieve vital information.”
“Oh,” Pearl smiled, “so you could talk with the computer.”
“Yes,” Erica smiled, happy that everyone was happy again, “and her brain.”
Hellena reeled back, “YOU CAN READ MY MIND?!”
“Only tiny bits, small parts of information,” this wasn’t going at all how the 3 hour seminar with rather stale donuts and Bob who wouldn’t shut up about his fungus collection said it would, “It’s a skimmer, gathering and ciphering the important parts for my job and generally ignoring the rest. All tour guides have one.”
Pearl put a calming hand on the Amazonians shoulder and pulled her down for a huddle, “We need to figure out what happened to Devtony.”
“But she can read my mind, my thoughts. She knows the things I think!” Hellena peeked out back at Erica who was absently picking at some lint on her blazer.
“Yes, and despite that she seems willing to help us.” Pearl had heard of this technology before but it had little affect on her people, they had far bigger problems.
“Yeah but I . . .” Hellena’s mouth opened in the hopes some good reason to not trust her would fall out but all that came was a small squeak.
“Er, excuse me,” Erica waved to them, trying to get their attention, “Is the sword you are searching for about 2.1 meters long with gold inlayed cross guard?”
The Amazonian gulped reminded of how truly dead she now was, “Yeah, did you see it?”
“No,” then Erica touched her ear piece, “but I believe I just scanned someone who did.”
Hellena looked from Pearl back to Erica, “All right fine, but you stay out of there between 6 and 9 PM. That’s Hellena’s time!”
Erica clapped her hands together, ecstatic to have a new job, “Excellent, now if you will take these brochures and put on these VIP badges we can be off.”
Pearl and Hellena signed away most of their rights to sue should their corpses be found mutilated and ripped to shreds by a pack of space hyenas or the $5 removal fee when they wind up in a sand worms belly and after double checking with one of the onboard lawyers they were off.
“Now this deck was dedicated in memory of the warrior of the great Time Battle from 3590 to 2574 and was called Clockwork Ange right until they finally repaired the tear in the space time continuum deleting all traces of that terrible war.”
Hellena leaned down to Pearl, “I don’t remember that,” Pearl shrugged, as far as she knew it was the year of the Cantaloupe and time travel was impossible, “and how do we get her to stop?” Hellena asked as Erica moved from history to architect plans for the three decks above them.
She’d slipped straight into tour mode and lead the two backwards through each deck of the mostly abandoned hospital rattling off every fact that could be squeezed from a computer that wasn’t being used for porn (about 0.5% of them). Due to tract building being the wave of the future in the 34th century each room lead perfectly into the next right down to the placement of the scalpel and trash bin to the point where she was no longer certain exactly where they were.
Pearl cleared her throat trying to interrupt the latest string of words, “I say, I was wondering if there was something you could help us with once we find the sword.”
“Sword? What sword?” Erica paused mid backstep (she was top of her class at walking backwards without hitting anything important and causing a Rube Goldbergian chain of reactions that ended in the tourists getting hit with flying syringes).
“The Sword That I’m Missing,” Hellena growled.
“Yes, of course.” She smiled and turned away from them furiously processing her request to find the way to the main desk.
In a stage whisper Hellena was certain their tour guide would hear, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“We don’t have a choice, she may be the only one who can lead us to Devtony,” Pearl was worried, she thought their tour through different wings of the hospital would uncover the bounty hunter but aside from a few serious hammer knocks to the head and a giant mass of people from the ClusterFuck who got a bit too close to the wormhole and were now having a bit of a fused problem there was no sign of the giant.
“Oh right, I forgot about him. You, tour lady,” Erica turned at what became her call name when she took this horrid job 5 years ago, “we’re looking for me best friend. He’s really tall, drools a bit and smells like swiss cheese left out in the sun for a week.” Tour lady smiled, her finger already to her ear.
“Hellena, I think she’s going to need a bit better description than. . .”
“Devtony – designation Demon Dog, Bounty Hunter class 9. Not to be trusted around anything sharp.”
“Wow, you are good.”
Erica paused, something wasn’t right with her ear piece. Every time she asked the computer for his location it buzzed at her like a wrong number on those antique video phones, “Hm, I seem to be having some interference. Luckily there’s always a plan b. I’ll ask the secretary.”
She approached the door pad and instead of pushing the open button entered a strange series of numbers. The floor grinded a bit and a strange light flashed through the small cracks of the door frame before swishing open from right to left. “After you,” Erica stood in the door jam, a necessity after the doors became sentient during the last reboot and liked closing on people cutting off limbs or that one time half a head.
Pearl and Hellena passed from a cold sterile sick bay into a cold hostile waiting room. The walls were a strange pale green that from the corner of your eye looked yellow and the other a speckled brown. Chairs specifically chosen to be uncomfortable and bile inducing ringed the baseboard edge with small reading pads locked to issues of Octogenarian Vogue, Better Ships & Terraforms from fifty years ago and the recent Highlights clinging to strange glass tables.
At the far end a menacing command center with the words “Main Desk” loomed, covered in wood from the Tree people of Pandora-2 (they had a bit of an axe to grind). Erica, having locked the door in place took the lead and walked up to the Main Desk, knocking softly on the closed paneling window.
Pearl expected the window to fly open and an old woman with a pinched face and pencils in her hair to poke her head out. Instead a whomp and then flicker noise sounded behind the window, the lights in the reception area dimmed a bit and woosh as the fog machine kicked in. Through the haze a gigantic green hologram of a woman’s face appeared upon the window, “Who Arouses the Wrath of the Great and Powerful Volman?!” Her voice echoed across the small room as eyes that burned with the vengeance of a white dwarf ripped into each of their souls and judged them as unworthy.
Hellena and Pearl gasped, each grabbing onto the other begging for forgiveness for every crime they ever thought of commiting. “I’m sorry I took the last biscuit.”
“I forgot to clean up the blood pit!”
“I never should have lied to my mom!”
“I had no idea human pelvises were so fragile!”
Erica stumbled through her briefcase, “Oh sorry, I forgot,” she pulled out a small card covered in holes and slid it through a scanner on the wall.
“I swear the terrier’s not mine!”
“I had no idea witches weren’t water resistant!”
Something grinded behind again as gears geared and cranks cranked, the fog machine turned off and the air flipped on pumping the haze out. The lights raised back on and the green face vanished from in front of them. Pearl and Hellena exchanged a glance, realizing they were still holding onto each other they let go each smoothing down their clothes nonchalantly.
The wooden window flew open and a woman asked, “Yeah, whatcha want?” It was the same face earlier about to devour their souls through their eyes and spit the rest down the garbage chute but this one was of flesh and blood, still just as green and somehow even more terrifying in person.
“Sorry to bother you,” Erica started trying on one of her best smiles, which the secretary rolled her eyes at, “but I was wondering if you could help with a bit of information.”
“What’s it say up there?” she pointed to the top of her window to the world, her eyes never leaving the crossword desk.
“Um . . . Main?” Erica asked back.
“Exactly, no information. Good day,” she began to close her window but Erica wedged her hand in suppressing a cry from the pain.
“Please, I, uh, what’s your name?” she asked grasping at straws.
The secretary paused in mid window slam, her costume glasses sliding down her nose. It wasn’t often that she got to play this part and damnit if she wasn’t going to put her all into it, “Why do you want to know. Are you writing any of this down?”
“No,” Pearl stepped forward into the line of sight, “We are lost travelers who are looking for a friend. He was taken.”
The eyes calculated, well it was a while since she’d last had a bit of fun, “Taken you say,” the voice was maple sweet with a hint of bacon, “must have been one of the poachers.”
“Poachers?” Hellena asked, “There are Egg People here?”
“Poachers,” she enunciated at the Amazonian, “who take perfectly healthy people and remove all their organs and sell them on the red market,” This was a good one, she’d have to share it on the big board.
“Don’t you mean the black market?”
“You try keeping a market black when it’s covered in livers and spleens and things. No, definitely the red market. Yeah, it’s terrible. We’ve had five no fifty go missing this week alone,” she slid her glasses up a bit so she could do the ‘look over the rims for dramatic effect’ move.
“Oh no!” Erica who still had her fingers wedged in the window exclaimed. “Where are these people held?”
Pearl shook her head and mumbled, “If they knew where they were don’t you think they’d have stopped it by now?”
“The old warehouses, down by the lab. Yeah, scary place that is. Full of, zombies. Robot zombies that . . . shoot bees,” did she still have access to the closed circuit for the old warehouses? Oh and there were the popcorn credits left on the counter.
Erica put out her steepled hands, “Please good woman, we beseech you . . .”
“We do?” Hellena asked.
“Give us access to the warehouses so that we may claim their dear friends mangled and organless corpse.”
The air was getting a little thick and for fear that the spell she’d weaved and her face might crack the secretary punched a few numbers on her computer and out spat three passes, “That should get you to the warehouses, good luck.” She turned her attention back to her crossword but peered up at them through her eyelashes.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” Erica grabbed up the passes, and pushed the other two towards the door they came in. She punched in some new numbers off the papers and again the ground shifted and the light shone, though dimmer and more green this time.
“Oi, does that ear thingie go into your brain or something?” Hellena asked, “and quit shoving.”
“No time,” the door opened again though now to a dark and forbidding green hallway with a flickering light at the end. “Thank you again,” Erica called once more before pushing the group into certain death.
“Oh and watch out for the cybernetic hair dressers! They’ll rip your skulls right off,” the secretary called out once more before the door to her world closed for good. Turning her attention back to the puzzle she counted under her breath lest the three try to claw their way back through before the shift finished. Emily grinned to herself and once the Waiting Room was back in place, slipped out of her costume and read her beeper “A surly cab driver with a heart of gold? Sure why not.” Her arms slid the wooden window back into place for the next unfortunate soul.