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The Science Family Adventures

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Hello, fellow policies!

Well, I recently became a fan of Our Fair City and was disappointed to see there was no fanfiction. To be fair, the podcast has such a good story there isn't much room for fanfiction to fill in any blanks. After the events of Episode 20 of Season 6 I thought there might be a little wiggle room for a What If? story to tide myself over until Season 7 starts in May.

This story takes place in an alternate timeline but I will do my best to keep everyone as in-character as possible. Special thanks to smildonmeow for her insight and fantastic Beta skills.

With sincerest respect and apologies to the cast and crew of Our Fair City.

<> indicates thoughts or Doctor Moro's electronic speech.


                                                                                                               The Science Family Adventures

 

Chapter One: Troublesome Reunions

 

Doctor Emily Caligari stopped at the doorway of a darkened Tower office. The Street Safe officer escorting her paused as well and then shrank back as Caligari glared at him when he tried to put his hand on her back to guide her into the room. Her shoulders slumped and an irritated sigh escaped her lips.

“Well. I would be lying if I said this was a surprise. You always survive, don’t you? You’re like a cockroach that way.”

“Well, aren’t you full of compliments, Doctor Caligari,” Special Agent George Chamberlain took a long sip from his juice box and stood. The Street Safe officer fumbled for the light switch, and then left the room, closing the door behind him. Neither scientist nor assassin watched him go as they eyed each other warily.

Chamberlain looked her over, no doubt taking in her frayed clothing and tired appearance. She clasped her hands behind her back to keep from straightening her jacket or flattening her hair. “You seemed to have survived the ant invasion unharmed. Unfortunately.”

“Really, Chamberlain, you’ll turn my head with all this flattery,” Caligari turned on her heel and walked towards the desk. She made a concentrated effort to sound cool and unconcerned, even though she was turning her back on a sociopath who would cheerfully (for him) shoot her where she stood. In fact, she found it worrisome he was neither threatening nor attacking her.

In less than a second, she thought of an answer. “I’m too important to be harmed, but they can’t exactly leave me unchaperoned either. So they‘d have to have some poor schmuck guard me.” Chamberlain refused to answer her and she knew she was right. “Guard duty? You? They have you guarding me?” Caligari let out a surprised chuckle as she sat down. “Wow. Whose bad side did you get on to receive such a plum assignment, Chamberlain?”

The agent twitched and then ignored her question for a moment. The normally stoic agent seemed almost agitated. It must be taking all of his control not to shoot her when he was this close to her. “The Company has decided you are an asset that needs closer supervision. You have a history of disappearing and they have decided, with the current…crisis…it would be in everyone’s best interest to keep you…safe.”

Caligari chewed the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. “Right. In addition, as the darling of M.U.R.D.E.R., they decided you were the best person for this job. Poor dear. Babysitting me when all you want to do is be out slaughtering ants must really get under your skin.”

“They thought I was more useful here than at the Power Station,” Chamberlain changed the subject. It was time to make Caligari feel uncomfortable. “Well, a gossipy little bird told me your…friends,” he sneered the word, “were headed for The Cube.”

Emily kept her face as blank as she could and tried not to react. Chamberlain was under orders not to harm her but that did not prevent him from being an aggravating jackass. “Friends may be overstating things. Colleagues might be more accurate. On the other hand, perhaps acquaintances would be better. Surely you’ve been tailing me long enough to know I don’t have friends.”

“Whatever.” The agent pushed a chair closer to the desk and sat down. “They’re headed for The Cube and there’s not a thing you can do from here to help them. It’s not a happy fun place. I would know. I bet that Snidge kid breaks first,” he told her with relish. “Good job keeping him alive by the way. Lucky for him you were nearby.”

“Lucky for Snidge you’ve gotten sloppy, Chamberlain,” Caligari shot back, enjoying the way his thin lips became even thinner when she said it. “First Elizabeth, then Snidge. Your kill ratio isn’t what it used to be, Agent Chamberlain.”

He hissed. That was the closest she’d ever gotten to an emotional response from him. It must be irritating for Chamberlain to have blots on his record. Unfinished business.

Caligari swiveled in the chair, away from Chamberlain and towards the window. It gave her a spectacular view of the flood zone and she tried not to think of all the people she couldn’t save.

Then there was Elizabeth, Snidge, Cassie Wilkins, Moro, and yes…-even West. They were headed for The Cube. Chamberlain was right about one thing; Snidge wouldn’t even last an hour. She wanted to help, but how? She doubted she could leave this room, not without Chamberlain in tow; and to try to reason with the Directors or anyone in Upper Management would just alert them to the fact they had leverage over her. Damn West and his Spaghetti Wednesdays and Taco Tuesdays! Damn Snidge and his neediness. Damn all of them for making her care about anything outside her work. Caligari was sure her initial hypothesis had been correct. Caring for others made one weak. She was better off alone.

That did not mean she intended to leave West and his collected misfits to the nonexistent mercy of the Company. Yes, she was planning to save them out of spite. That was perfect.

Caligari stuck her hands in her pockets. Ignored, Chamberlain began speaking into his damned micro recorder, filing his report no doubt. As long as he wasn’t talking to her Caligari didn’t care what he did. She had to think.

She rummaged until her fingers touched a tear shaped device. Doctor Machina’s teleporter prototype remote! When she put it in her jacket this morning she hadn’t expected to need it. Doctor Caligari ran her thumb across the device until she found the “Start” button and pressed it. It didn’t beep but it glowed and she was glad Chamberlain couldn’t see it from where he was sitting. She only hoped it worked.

Emily didn’t have long to wait. The door to the office crashed open and the same Street Safe officer who lead her to this room wheeled in Doctor Moro.

“Subject Doctor Caligari made several pithy remarks and then sat at the desk to-” Chamberlain’s report cut off as the Street Safe officer put the cryogenically frozen doctor’s tank dangerously close to the professional killer. The man gulped as he realized he had Chamberlain’s attention then ran from the room.

Caligari removed the removed the remote from her pocket and dropped it under the desk while Chamberlain was distracted. She stood and approached Doctor Moro’s cryo tube. “Doctor Moro. You seem unaffected and unharmed. The others are on their way to The Cube I suppose?”

<Oh, Doctor Caligari, it was horrible. Doctor Moro’s translator device made it difficult to convey surprise or alarm. <The others…they were vaporized. Only I remained unharmed. Since sending me to The Cube would serve no purpose, they decided to take me to you.>

 “Vaporized?” That was new. Even Chamberlain seemed mildly interested. Caligari leaned a bit closer to the tank and frowned at the frozen man. “I’ve never heard of the Company vaporizing people. How did they even do it, a laser?”

 <Shrug. I saw no laser or any device of any kind. There was a green light and then the three of them were gone.>

“Three?” Caligari’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “Wait, you’re here, and there were four others with you. West, Elizabeth, Snidge, and Wilkins. Who’s missing?”

Moro was silent so long Caligari thought his translator function had lost power. Then he replied so softly she had to strain to hear him. <Cassie.>

“Cassie? Cassie Wilkins, geonaut and pilot of the Hope of Hartlife?” Doctor Caligari shook her head. “No. That makes no sense. I just heard her make an announcement about the Directors allowing the flood victims into the Atrium.”

Chamberlain lounged in his chair, no longer interested in the two scientists’ conversation. They ignored him and Doctor Moro continued.

 <If you heard the announcement, you will recall Cassie claimed the Directors agreed to open the blast doors and let the flood survivors inside. This was not so, but they could hardly publicly contradict a company hero. The overzealous assistant to the Directors, a Mister Cromwell, threw her out of the window shortly before ordering us to The Cube. Poor young Andrew’s heart was shattered. If I still had the ability, I would weep for him.>

Caligari’s own heart ached a bit for Snidge but she knew better than to let it show in front of the cameras, and especially not in front of Chamberlain. She kept her face blank and her voice steady. “Huh. That’s…very unfortunate.”

 <Unfortunate? Is that all you have to say, Doctor Caligari? If my Shout Function was fully operational, I would be making the walls shake with my anger. How could even you be so unfeeling? Young love, destroyed. An innocent life dashed against the unfeeling ground. Your only friends in the world have been atomized, how can you stand there and just say 'It’s unfortunate'? You should be ashamed, Emily.>

Caligari really wished she were not having this argument in front of Chamberlain. Whatever the cameras and mics didn’t report, he would, and she hated to think what that rat bastard would say in his report.

“I couldn’t have helped them, Moro, any more than I could have stopped the flood. Wherever they are now, it’s preferable to being tortured in The Cube.” She pointed at Chamberlain. “If it wasn’t fun and laughs for the murder machine here, how well do you think Snidge would have done?”

Doctor Moro didn’t answer and Caligari stared at him for five minutes before giving up. The others could be dead or stranded miles from civilization and she wouldn’t grieve for them. She could not.

“Fine! Pout, mourn, what ever you have to do. I don’t care. Even if you could cry, it wouldn’t bring any of them back!” Caligari turned away from the tube and stomped back to the desk. She hoped she was fooling her audience. She rummaged through the desk drawers until she found a notepad and a pen. “I’m not a bleeding heart. I’m a scientist. I have work to do. Chamberlain, coffee.”

The M.U.R.D.E.R. agent paused in his report and looked up. “What?”

Caligari didn’t look up as she continued transcribing a formula on the notepad. She answered, “Coffee. For me. I have work to do, work that I can finally concentrate on now that I’m no longer distracted by everyone else’s little melodramas. If I am to be useful to Hartlife, I’ll need to concentrate. Real coffee not dyed brown algae, Chamberlain. Now.”

Agent Chamberlain crossed his arms over his chest and glared at her. That scowl might work on the average policy but not her. Never her, especially after the past few weeks. Even the threat Chamberlain represented paled compared to watching fellow human beings torn apart by ants.

“I’m not your assistant, Doctor. You can’t order me around like one of your laboratory drudges.” He might be a babysitter but Chamberlain drew the line at gofer.

Caligari made a show of looking around the desk. “I’d pick up the phone and call for coffee delivery, but look!” Emily spread her hands. “No phone, no computer, no way of contacting anyone. Now, if you want me walking down the hall unsupervised until I find someone to fetch me some coffee while you run the risk of being reprimanded for letting me out of your sight, that’s fine. It’s your career. Or,” she smirked at the look of irritation on the agent’s face. “You can fetch me some coffee.” Her smile became sickeningly sweet. “Think of it as an addendum to your temporary assignment. Not to mention all the new abilities you’ll add to your skill set.”

The professional killer seemed to wrestle with his desire to throttle her with his firm belief he did not want to return to The Cube.

“Fine,” Chamberlain bit out the word angrily and leapt up from his chair. He stalked across the room and threw open the door. Before he left, he turned and addressed her, “Don’t leave this room, Doctor,” he said as he prepared to leave. Before he shut the door, he warned her, “You wouldn’t like it if I have to chase you.”

After he was gone Caligari let her shoulders relax a bit. She thought of letting Moro know what she had tried to do but decided against it. She didn’t want to give him false hope if her plan failed and if her guard and his masters thought she was alone and “friendless” they might underestimate her. In the meantime, she might be able to get some real work done while she figured out a way to contact the others.

Emily glanced at Moro then at the smooth flat plane of her desk. She closed her eyes and sent a silent message to whoever might be listening:

 

 <Stay alive, slime molds.>

Has Caligari managed to save her menagerie of misfits? Can she and Moro patch up their now shaky relationship as collaborators? Will Chamberlain poison the coffee? Tune in next time, readers, and hope you haven’t seen the last of …The Science Family Adventures.

Chapter Text

                                                                                                               The Science Family Adventures

 

 

 

Chapter Two: A Tearing, Clawing Feeling

 

   The first thing Andrew Snidge noticed after he woke up was the ceiling above him looked like it was made of real wood. Not a synthetic plastic cleverly hidden with paint but real wood characterized by whorls and stripes. As trees grew and developed rings they formed unique patterns and-how did he know that?

 

   The second thing he noticed was how warm he felt, safe, protected from all harm. He vaguely remembered this feeling, a warm pair of arms, a sweet smell, and a song about fiscal responsibility. Andrew looked down and saw two arms encircling his waist, one strong and sporty; the other clad in a smart striped material and stitched at the wrist. Mom and Herbert, his family was shielding him from injury or at least there to repair him. All his family together in peace. Well, he couldn’t see Doctor Caligari, or…

 

   Cassie.

 

   Oh, Founders, his brave, beautiful Cassie. Tossed out of a window after her use to the Company was at an end. He imagined her terrified face as she fell to her death, heard her scream. He hoped it had been quick and that her mother and sister would never hear about her broken corpse. He wondered if it had been left where it fell on the roof of the Grand Atrium. Would anyone look up and see her lying there? Would Simon drive her to the mass grave outside of Hartlife? In addition, saddest of all, would any of the thousands of people she died to save ever know of her sacrifice?

 

   Andrew gently removed the arms embracing him and tried to slide out from between the sleepers without waking them. He rose to his feet and looked around. The only light in the room was a faint bioluminescent substance in a jar on an end table. There must be a light somewhere, all he had to do was feel around and find a wall. Then he could find a light switch.

 

   Young Snidge made it approximately six feet before he triggered a motion sensor.

   An eerie blue light swept across the room and illuminated the three occupants briefly. Elizabeth and Herbert’s eyes twitched but they didn’t stir until a burst of music accompanied the light.

 

   “What-?” Elizabeth began.

   “Who-?” Herbert interrupted.

 

   Andrew’s adoptive parents scrambled to their feet and stood beside their son as the music ended and Doctor Caligari’s brisk, sardonic voice crackled over a hidden speaker.

 

   <Well, hello, Snidge, West, Elizabeth, and anyone else you three troublemakers have dragged along with you. This is, as you know, Doctor Emily Caligari.>

 

   “How-? When did she have time to?-” Andrew began but Doctor Caligari’s voice interrupted him. . <Not now, Snidge and/or West. I have a few things I need to tell you and it’s best if you listen.>


   Andrew held his little family a bit tighter and together the three listened in silence. <If you’re listening to this message, it’s because I’m dead or captured and Hartlife has become too dangerous for you to remain. My money’s on West wearing out his welcome.>


   “Termagant,” Herbert muttered under his breath and Elizabeth shushed him.

   <Nevertheless, despite my own better judgment, I want you three to be safe. This is one of my safe houses. You will notice it’s incredibly well stocked. I like to be prepared for anything and was able to bribe a few people I know from Street Safe to ferret some essentials out here. I’ve left a map to the other safe houses if you need them. I’ve also included a few of Doctor Machina’s devices you should find useful and a few boxes of tinker parts and lab equipment in the garage. Make good use of it. Elizabeth, keep that maniac from blowing up my safe houses. I’ve included some freeze dried Meatwall and a live piece in some growth medium in the refrigerator. That should tide you over for a few months. Enough to get somewhere safe without eating the charming specimens of humanity you’re stuck with.>

   <West, since you can drive, I’ve left a small vehicle and a few ion batteries. It seats four and has decent trunk space. DO. Not. Wreck it. If need be, I’ll come back from the grave to deal with you if you do.> 

   Doctor West looked more impressed than concerned by this statement. Doctor Caligari’s message continued.

   <Use the safe houses. Stay alive and stay safe. If the worst has happened to me, please, grant me this last request: don’t avenge me. Don’t come looking for me and under no circumstances are you to try to rescue me if I’m captured. Hartlife has a lot more resources than you do even under the best of circumstances and they will crush you.>

   <Just…do me one little favor….stay alive, you slime molds.>

   The message clicked off and everyone was silent. Herbert was the first to move, stumbling about until he found the light switch. Elizabeth shielded her eyes while Andrew just stood there, unaffected.

   Doctor West spent a few happy minutes poking into various drawers and cabinets, taking inventory and whistling to himself. After finding a small tin of tea and a copper kettle, he filled it from the sink and set it on the gas stove to settle.

   “Hmmm…Doctor Machina or perhaps Emily herself built a teleporter! I wonder if putting the subjects to sleep was an intended or unintended side effect. Oh well, it doesn’t matter! Hrm…spices…tea cakes…good…jar of jam…aha! Dried Meatwall! I’ll put a little platter for us together and we can sit down and plan our strategy. Emily couldn’t have been serious about being left behind so we should see about liberating her for her own good. Now…where are the oven mitts and tea towels?”

    Elizabeth ignored Herbert and turned her attention back to Andrew. His face was blank; his eyes stared at nothing. She knew that face from personal experience. Andrew was in shock. Her fingers reached out to stroke his hair but Andrew gave no sign he knew she was there. She remembered the night Street Safe came and told her husband had disappeared. Nathan had been a toddler, banging a wooden spoon on an old binder while the very nice young woman told her she would never see the man she married again. Elizabeth remembered the numbness, tunnel vision, and the sensation of thinking everyone around her was speaking underwater. She wanted to take her adopted son into her arms but he seemed unmovable, frozen.

   “Now that we have our little repast assembled, all we need is for tea to steep and…Andrew?” Doctor West shifted from exuberant to concerned as he approached his little family. “My dear boy…are you all right? Please, why don’t you have a seat? I found some of those cookies you like…Jimmy Algae, I think they’re called. We have much to do and we can’t plan a rescue on empty stomachs. Elizabeth, would you be as kind as to guide Andrew to the table?”

   “Herbert,” Elizabeth stared mutely, helplessly at her lover. Andrew refused to budge and stared at the floor. She turned her attention back to Andrew. “Would you like to lie down? I’m sure this place has a bedroom somewhere. You should get some rest. You’re still recovering from your surgery, you know, and-”

   “Will a nap make everything better, Mom?” Andrew asked quietly. His voice was flat and dead as he stared at Elizabeth long enough to make her drop her gaze. Andrew looked at Doctor West. “Those must be really good cookies if you think they can make me forget what they did to Cassie. Remember her scream as she died? The Directors didn’t even feel guilty about it. She was just an action item, a convenient scapegoat for everything that went wrong with their stupid plan! And who’s going to punish them?” Andrew pulled himself away from Elizabeth and stepped back, glaring at his parents, who could only regard him silently, unable to speak.

   “The Directors don’t care about policies, about people,” Andrew corrected himself. “We’re small and insignificant and disposable, all but a chosen few. Caligari is useful, so she gets to live. Cassie was set up to be a martyr and failed at that so they made her one.”

   Elizabeth shivered when she heard the pain and bitterness in Andrew’s voice. It was a painful reminder of Nathan. She couldn’t help her real, no…her biological son because he refused to listen. Perhaps she would have better luck with Andrew.

    “My dear boy…” Herbert began as he stepped towards his distraught protégé. Emotions were not his greatest forte but he would try for Andrew’s sake. He attempted to put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder but the young man shook it off. “Don’t touch me!” Andrew shouted and began to pace and rant. “Science isn’t going to solve things this time, Herbert. Cookies, tea, and a nap afterwards won’t bring Cassie back or reverse time, Mom. She’s gone! She’s gone and it’s all Hartlife’s fault and I just…I just stood there.”

   “It wasn’t-” Herbert tried to tell him but Andrew was in no mood to listen. “Maybe if I’d stayed away, maybe if I’d never loved her, she wouldn’t have suffered. I wouldn’t be suffering…”

   “Andrew,” Elizabeth want to hug his pain away but she didn’t think he was ready to be touched just yet. “It wasn’t your fault Cassie died. It was Hartlife’s.”

   “And is that supposed to make me feel better?” Andrew snarled. “’Oh, it’s all the fault of that big heartless corporation but there’s nothing a little guy like you can do!’ Great, that helps so much.” He paused in mid-step. “I wish I were dead. I wish I’d leapt out of that window after Cassie. We’d both be dead but we’d be together.”

    “No! Don’t say that. Don’t you dare say you’d rather be dead than be my son, Andrew Snidge!” Elizabeth barked, making both men jump back. Herbert tried to hold her back but she pushed him away. “You’re important to me, to Herbert, even Doctor Caligari took the time to include you in her recorded message. She spent hours making sure you didn’t die and this is how you want to repay her?”

   “Elizabeth…” Doctor West began and then wisely shut his mouth.

   “Mom…”

   “Oh, no!” Elizabeth waved away their comments. Tears streamed down her face and her voice shook. “I don’t want to hear it. You are not going to die on my watch, young man. You are going to live. You will thrive and one day you will hold Hartlife accountable for what they’ve done. And you will never tell me you’d rather be dead than be part of this family!”

   Andrew was shocked. He’d never seen Elizabeth act this furious and he’d seen her bite through someone’s clavicle. She wasn’t just angry, she was scared. Scared and worried about him, Andrew Snidge, failure and Life’s whipping boy. She was acting like she was really his mom. Despite his grief it made him feel…loved.

   Herbert felt warm all over when Elizabeth declared the three of them to be family. She said it so naturally too, as if she thought they belonged together. It was all he had ever wanted out of life, to have a family. Well, a family and Science. Hearing her say they were family made him love her even more. If only Cassie was still alive to complete the circle.

   “You think you’re the only person who’s ever lost someone?” Elizabeth didn’t give Andrew the chance to answer her. “I lost the man I married and never really knew what had happened to him. Hartlife stole my husband from me and then it came for my son. I know how you feel, dear,” Elizabeth held her hand over her chest. “It hurts. It hurts and you feel like you could suffocate from the pain and nothing will ever be right again. Like part of your soul was ripped from you. Look at me,” she told the young man and he did. “I survived. The pain and hurt faded and I’m still here. In a way, you’re luckier than I was; except for a needy toddler, I was completely alone. You’re not alone, Andrew,” she stepped forward and took his arm. “Herbert and I are here. We’ll do everything in our power to stay with you, help you.”

   “Listen to your mother, Andrew,” Doctor West spoke at last. His eyes were clouded with old memories and regrets as he drew his son by choice and his lover close to him. He sighed. “I wish I could tell you all this pain will go away someday. That you’ll heal and love again and everything will be wonderful.” Herbert stroked Andrew’s hair. “But I don’t want to lie to you, my boy. If I could build a time machine and save her, I would. If I could bargain with Death and exchange my life for hers I would do so in a thrice if it meant an end to your suffering. However, I can’t, my dear sweet child. I can love you. I can be there for you.” Doctor West squeezed his small family tighter, “and I can hold you if you need to cry. For as long as you like.”

   That tiny bit of extra kindness pushed Andrew over the edge. His face crumbled and he began to cry huge fat tears. Elizabeth and Herbert twined their arms around his waist and waited patiently as their precious son wept. “My heart hurts,” Andrew sobbed. “It feels like this giant monster with huge spiked claws is squeezing it. I can’t stop it. It’s stealing my breath and I feel like I’m going to collapse because it hurts too much. Being beaten on the tundra or shot through the head didn’t hurt nearly as much. I want it to stop. I-I wish I were a machine so nothing would hurt me any more. I wish I were calloused and cynical like Doctor Caligari so I wouldn’t let the pain get to me. I wish I’d pushed every one of those Directors out the window so they would know what they’d destroyed when they had Cassie murdered. I didn’t know any one person could feel so much. It’s tearing me from the inside out. How do I stop it?”

   “You can’t,” Elizabeth murmured softly. “You can only ride it out. We’re here with you. We love you, Andrew.”

“I love you too, Mom,” Andrew wiped his eyes and hugged her tight. Herbert stepped away, feeling like an unwanted intruder on a private moment. The scientist turned away and busied himself pouring tea for the three of them.

   “Now, before we take our tea, I would like to say a few words.” Elizabeth and Andrew broke apart and joined Doctor West around the table. Herbert straightened his shoulders and clasped his hands behind his back. The two others copied his posture. Doctor West cleared his throat and began.

   “We pause to pay tribute to a wonderful young lady, Cassandra Wilkins. Pilot of the Hope of Hartlife, loving sister and daughter, a brave girl with a generous heart. I regret I did not know Cassie better; perhaps I should have taken the time. “

   Herbert took a deep breath and continued. "Humans are made of energy and the First Law of Thermodynamics states energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be dispersed. So I like to imagine Cassie's energy has been dispersed and even now she may be traveling the universe as part of a comet.”

   Herbert stopped speaking and bowed his head briefly. Elizabeth gave him a warm smile and gently laid a finger on her son’s shoulder. “Andrew, dear? Would you like to say something? Don’t feel like you have to!” she added quickly.

   “Yes, I would. Thank you, Herbert. That was nice.” Andrew took a deep shaky breath before speaking. “If I could cry enough tears to remake the sea, it would not be enough to show my sorrow.” Elizabeth and Herbert looked at each other with surprise. The words and elocution might have been Benedict’s but the emotion belonged to Andrew. “Were I to stand outside and howl until all the wolves within a thousand miles howled with me, it could not adequately express my pain. Cassie was a hero, not because the Company said so, or the Actuaries picked her. She was a hero because of her actions. She sacrificed to provide for her unapproved sibling. Cassie was willing to go to her death to ensure Lily had a future. And…out of everyone in Hartlife, she chose an unworthy soul like mine to love.”

   His adoptive parents looked like they dearly wanted to interrupt but Andrew shook his head. “Whether or not I was unworthy when we met doesn’t matter. Cassie’s love made me feel worthy, special. When we make our way back to the city I will tell everyone I meet about the day Cassie Wilkins looked the very Directors themselves in the eyes and made them save lives. To Cassandra Wilkins every person was worthy of life and happiness. I will make it my life’s purpose to make sure the world never forgets her.”

   “That’s…all I have to say,” Andrew finished awkwardly and bowed his head. Elizabeth was crying too hard to add her own tribute to Cassie but her emotions shone through her eyes. Herbert’s eyes were not exactly dry.

   “Oh, Andrew!” Elizabeth managed at last and she and Doctor West embraced their son again.

   The young man smiled sadly. “I like these family hugs. I could get used to this. Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Doctor West. I don’t know what I’d do right now without the two of you.”

   “Please, call me-” Herbert began automatically and then stopped himself. “Never mind. Feel free to call me what ever you like, dear boy.”

   “If -if you don’t mind,” Andrew spoke up, “would it be okay if I called you Dad? You don’t have to decide right now!” he was quick to add. “Just, one day, in the future.”

   Herbert had to swallow several times to rid himself of the sudden lump in his throat. He would cry if he hadn’t replaced his tear ducts with more useful fluids. “It would be an honor and privilege, my boy!” He grabbed the young man’s hand and patted it awkwardly, feeling genuinely touched. “When you’re ready, of course. Now, let’s sit down and break our fast. Must keep our strength up for the big trek back to civilization!” He waited until the rest of his family was seated and comfortable before he spoke again.

   “Now my dears,” Herbert’s voice dropped from “happy doting father figure” to “Vengeful Mad Scientist.” “It’s time to plan,” he growled with menace.

 

It is with a heavy heart we leave you, readers. May you all take a moment to grieve along with the Snidge-West family. Shiver at the anger of the great doctor. Rejoice in the comfort they give each other until we continue…The Science Family Adventures.

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                                                                                                               The Science Family Adventures

Chapter Three: Reconnecting

 

 

   “Well, well. Hello, Mister Davenport. It’s been awhile.”

   Edward Davenport was so intent on straightening his borrowed tie he didn’t notice the M.U.R.D.E.R. agent’s approach. He jumped with surprise and then squared his shoulders and stared at Chamberlain. This man could shoot him and Davenport would be dead before he hit the ground. However, Chamberlain was human and that made him much more relatable than an ant that would feast on his still living body.

    “Chamberlain,” Davenport did his best to appear composed and not as desperate as he felt. “I’m not surprised to see you’re still alive. You’re a talented survivor.”

   “I know.”

   “I’m amazed to see you up here though. I thought I was coming to see Doctor Caligari for a job interview. I figured you’d be off somewhere making ants’ heads explode.”

   “Normally, I would be,” the agent deliberately avoided elaborating and pointed towards a door further down the hall. “After you, Mister Davenport.”

   “Thank you, Chamberlain,” Davenport carefully stepped past the agent and headed towards the door. He pretended he couldn’t hear the other man’s steps behind him.

   Davenport knocked politely on the door and waited to be allowed entry. He tried not to fidget, look at Chamberlain, or sweat. Finally, he heard Doctor Caligari irritated voice.

   “If that’s you, Davenport, come on in. If that’s you, Chamberlain, stay outside or I’ll throw all your juice boxes out the window!”

   Chamberlain leaned against the wall with deliberate casualness. “Have fun, Davenport.”

   The former VP had the feeling he was being baited and ignored the other man. Instead, he opened the door and closed it quietly behind him.

   Chamberlain gave the air a long sniff. Davenport smelled exhausted and in great need of a shower but not afraid. Not even when the agent had startled him. Huh. Chamberlain was mildly disappointed.

   The first thing Davenport saw after he closed the door was Doctor Montgomery Moro propped up against a wall. His cryo tube must still be working because Davenport could hear a faint humming. “Um…good morning, Doctor Moro.”

   <Good morning, Mister Davenport. I am pleased to see you alive and unharmed.>

   “Err…thanks, Doc,” Davenport looked at the desk near the window. Doctor Emily Caligari looked nearly exactly as he remembered. Her clothing looked a bit too large for her, so she either had to scrounge like he had or she’d lost weight.

   Doctor Caligari sized Davenport up. She’d heard he’d been evacuated from the Grand Atrium to Level One with the rest of the survivors. Some of Davenport’s former staff claimed he’d saved their lives. His clothes were wrinkled and baggy and he looked five years older than he had the last time she had seen him. Overall, he looked malnourished and exhausted.

   “Well, he must like you, Davenport,” Caligari hid any sympathy she might have felt for her interviewee behind her usual mask of impatience. “He hasn’t talked me for at least a week. He’s pouting because he thinks I’m not properly sad West, Snidge, and Elizabeth might be dead.”

   <Harrumph. You have no empathy, Doctor Caligari.>

   Caligari waved to the wooden chair across from her desk. “Well, you might as well sit down.” She nodded at the small refrigerator diagonally behind Davenport. “Help yourself to an algae bar and a bottle of water before we begin. Just don’t touch the juice boxes. Chamberlain keeps them counted and he’ll know if one has been moved or missing.

   Davenport stared in surprise. “Thanks. That’s very kind-”

   The scientist cut him off. “I refuse to talk to anyone who looks like he’s about to keel over from hunger. There’s a s’mores-flavored bar in there if you want it. I think you said once you like them.”

   The former VP was pleased she remembered but knew better than to say so aloud. He found the bar in the refrigerator and helped himself to a lemon water. Once she saw he was done she began to speak.

   “I need an assistant. A real assistant with corporate experience. She poked her thumb in Chamberlain’s general direction. “He’s efficient but doesn’t play well with others.”

   Davenport nodded. “I can see that.” He crossed his legs and stared curiously at Doctor Caligari. “So, what do you need from me? I’m no scientist. I can make coffee…more or less, run errands, and hey, rinse out a beaker or two. And…I need a job.”

   Caligari could see it cost the man no small amount of pride to come begging for anything from her. “Lucky for you, your Human Resources experience is exactly what I need.”

   The door cracked open and Chamberlain stepped inside. Davenport forced himself not to turn around and Caligari didn’t react at all, clearly used to the agent’s intrusive presence.

   “Ignore him,” Caligari told Davenport, “pretend he’s just a lamp or a coat rack. You’ll get used to him, or you will if you want to work here.”

   Chamberlain growled a bit under his breath but did nothing else while Caligari continued to speak.

   “The flooding caused catastrophic damage,” she told Davenport. She laced her fingers on the desk in front of her and leaned closer to the former VP. “A lot of it you know about; residential units, the people movers, the power station…et cetera. The City’s sump pumps and drainage system was ill-equipped to deal with the situation…I hope whoever was in charge of that department got fired,” she muttered under her breath.

   Davenport was silently freaked out about the well-trained predator behind him and tried to concentrate on what Doctor Caligari was telling him. “Sounds like a huge undertaking, lots of different departments will have to be coordinated. We have a serious labor shortage at the moment, how is the Company expecting all this to be done?”

   “Automation,” Caligari appreciated the fact she didn’t have to explain every little detail to Davenport. “It’ll be my job to design and build the machines needed to run the utilities. That includes air filtration, algae farming, and electricity. As my assistant, it will be your job to keep everyone on the same page, make sure the remaining engineers stay abreast of any changes we need to make, see where we can get materials, and maybe cannibalize some of the damaged people movers. In addition, the Moles suffered a noticeable loss in population, even though they kept most of their tunnels dammed up. So, we’ll need digging machinery to reopen some of the tunnels.”

   Davenport snapped his fingers. “What about the old lightning rig fleet? You could get some parts from there and recycle the metal. While you‘re at it, maybe you could salvage The Hope of Hartlife.”

   She nodded. “Good thinking. I‘d already planned on sending a survey team down to find The Hope but your lighting rig idea is a good one.“

   Doctor Caligari opened a desk drawer and unrolled a sheet of blueprints. “These devices will work on a similar principle to The Hope of Hartlife; giant drills. On a much smaller scale of course. And piloted by a computer program, not policies.”

   Davenport half raised his hand. “So, what? These automated functions…you’re talking about building robots. Robots that will replace humans and moles.”

   Caligari nodded once, “Precisely.”

   “But…”Davenport was reluctant to ask questions with Chamberlain around. “Won’t that mean the kind of wide scale unemployment we had after the fusion plant was built?”

   Caligari seemed pleased by the query. “It’ll be a generation, maybe two, before that will be an issue. The Company will just issue fewer reproductive permits and the problem will resolve itself. Besides, there are some smaller tasks than can only be done by humans. These robots won’t have fine motor control like a person would. They’ll do the heavy lifting, metaphorically speaking, and policies will do everything else. Moreover, with all the machinery and robots and retrofitting that needs to be done, that’ll keep the policies of Hartlife employed for months to come. Not to mention the new sump pumps and drainage we need.” She leaned back. “I was thinking of some sort of pipeline that would send any excess water to a reservoir outside the city.”

   “That would require teams of people in cold weather gear to make that work, keep the pipes from freezing,” Davenport felt a surge of hope and enthusiasm like he hadn’t felt in months. “Maybe keep ‘em busy for years down the road.”

   “It would ensure a flood of this magnitude never happened again,” Caligari didn’t quite smile but her lips quirked upward when she realized Davenport understood what she was working towards.

   “Enough public works projects to keep the good doctor employed and alive for next decade,” Chamberlain interrupted but neither Caligari nor Davenport, acknowledged him.

   Davenport cleared his throat and said nervously, "No offense, Caligari, but how do you put up with a guy who wants you dead breathing down your neck all day?"

   Caligari snorted. "That's not the half of it. What I wouldn't give to be able to sleep or shower alone again." She saw the look of shock on Davenport's face and snapped, "Not remotely what I meant!" She calmed down and clarified, "He sits outside the bathroom while I shower and then naps in a chair while I sleep."

   Davenport winced in sympathy, "Creepy."

   Doctor Caligari raised an eyebrow. "Very," she replied with dry humor.

   “I keep my eyes closed,” Chamberlain muttered under his breath.

   Caligari opened her mouth to insult Chamberlain when she was interrupted by an announcement played over a hidden loudspeaker.

   <Attention, policies, it is time for the morning ant extermination. Please remain calm until the firing has ceased. Hartlife. All the life you’ll ever need.>

   There was a whirring noise and then sonic booms as the roof mounted weaponry fired at the remaining group of ants. The room shook around them and went silent. All of its occupants were used to the morning disruption and did not move.

   “The Founders thought to equip the Tower with what’s known as M2 Browning anti-aircraft guns mounted on turrets,” Chamberlain surprised Caligari and Davenport with his knowledge. “Aircraft were flying machines used in ancient times.” The agent sounded jealous he wasn’t firing the weapons himself.

   “All that just by listening. Not bad, Chamberlain,” her words were complimentary but her tone was not. "With your...fascination for artillery, I think you would have done well in weapons manufacturing."

   Chamberlain inclined his head. Caligari was being sarcastic but he still took it as a compliment. “Thank you, Doctor.”

   “Enough chit-chat,” Caligari rose and Davenport stood up with her, unsure of where he stood with her.

   The scientist solved his dilemma for him. “So, do you want the job or not?”

   “I do, thank you, Doctor Caligari,” Davenport offered his hand to her and after a moment, she shook it once and then let go.

   “Wait,” Caligari crossed the room to the refrigerator and pulled out three algae bars. She pressed them into Davenport’s hands. “Take these with you. You start in the morning at eight a.m. We have a lot to do if we’re going to get this city back on its feet and I don’t have time for my assistant to be passing out.” She looked over his clothing. “I’ll see what I can do about finding you something better to wear. Natural disasters and insect invasion are no excuse to violate dress code. You’ll be representing me, so you can’t look like a rag doll. Are you still staying in one of the tents in level one?”

   Davenport nodded and Caligari continued. “It would be better to have you closer to me. Chamberlain?”

   “Yes, Doctor?”

   “The room across the hall is still unoccupied, right?”

   “That’s right,” Chamberlain drawled.

   She looked back at Davenport. “I’ll have someone from maintenance bring up some kind of bed for you, maybe some furniture. It has a bathroom but you’ll have to share a shower with the engineers on the floor below us.”

   “Hey, it’s not a problem. It’ll be nice to have a shower again…”

   “See you in the morning, Davenport. Don’t be late,” Doctor Caligari dismissed her new assistant.

   “Thank you. Thank you so much, Doctor Caligari.” Davenport was thankful he hadn’t had to beg for the job and Caligari didn’t hold the past against him. Then again, what she was asking him to do sounded a lot like his old job.

   Davenport passed Chamberlain without comment and closed the door behind him.

   The special agent until he was sure the other man was on the elevator before he spoke. “Aren’t you being just a little too generous with those algae bars…Boss?”

   Caligari shrugged and busied herself by putting the blueprints away. “Enlightened self interest, Chamberlain. A starving man can’t handle the same workload as someone who’s eating on a regular basis. Besides,” she pulled out her notebook and began to write plans, “The Company can afford it.”

****

   Davenport returned to level one to spend his last night in the tent city. He divided one of his algae bars among some of his former staff and decided to save one for breakfast. The third felt lumpy and he peeled off the wrapper. A strange device fell into his hand along with a carefully folded piece of paper. After he made sure no one was near his tent he unfolded the note and began to read:

   Davenport,

   If you’re reading this, congratulations on becoming my new assistant. I had to find a particularly creative way to distract Chamberlain to get a note in this package so don’t let me down.

   “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Davenport muttered to himself and then continued reading.

   This is a communication device equipped with a scrambler so Hartlife can’t eavesdrop when you use it. Find Loamy. I left similar paraphernalia with her for safekeeping. She can be trusted. Show her this note and let her know; West might still be alive.

   I’d better be right about you, Davenport,

   Caligari

   Davenport tucked the missive into a secret pocket in his undershirt and ate the algae bar thoughtfully. Loamy was that one armed mole West had operated on, the one Henderson traded his life to save. If someone as anti-social as Caligari trusted her, he could too.

   The second part of the note was harder to believe. Word around the camp said West and company were vaporized in full view of four Street Safe officers on the way to The Cube. Then again, West seemed like the kind of person who could survive almost anything.

   The former VP waited an hour and headed down into the newly excavated mole tunnels. He was careful to make sure he wasn’t being tailed but figured the Company had better things to think about than a washed-up former executive.

   So…the former Vice President of Human Resources lives and is working with Doctor Caligari again. How will he concentrate with Special Agent Chamberlain’s continuous presence? At least Loamy is alive and well, but what can she do to help? Her story and many others will be told in…The Science Family Adventures.

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                                                                                                                     The Science Family Adventures

 

 

Chapter Four: Recovery and Recon

 

Edward Davenport cautiously made his way to Old Tunnel. Most of the underground sections of the city were still deserted. The floodwaters had been slow to recede and mole crews were working to dredge the tunnels.

The water still came up to his knees and it made him uncomfortable to slog through it. Still, this was better than sitting around the tent city and breaking up food riots before they drew the attention and ire of Street Safe. It felt good to have a purpose again, to work. Caligari didn’t like him but she respected his abilities and experience. That meant more to him than he would have thought six months ago.

The note his new boss had given him had a map to Loamy’s burrow so he didn’t have to worry about getting lost, just carnivorous mold and any other creepy crawlies hiding in the dark. Electricity was spotty in the older tunnels but at least he wasn’t under surveillance.

He spotted a mole work crew at a junction up ahead and was surprised to see some familiar furry faces.

“Clay? Sandy? It is you, right?” Davenport looked over the moles. They seemed all right, just tired. Sandy seemed to be in charge while Clay relayed her orders to the crew. Every now and then one of the work crew would stare at Sandy or Clay with surreptitious awe. One of the two moles would notice and the admirer would drop their eyes.


“Hello, Mister Davenport,” Sandy looked at Clay. “Tell the crew to take a break, okay?”

“Sure thing, Star Nose.” The male mole turned to his fellow creatures. “Take two, guys.”

The other moles looked surprised but didn’t argue as they wandered off to take a grub break.

“Just Davenport is fine, guys,” the former VP didn’t know if he should shake the moles’ claws or not so he just gave them a clumsy wave. “Good to see you two alive and working.”

“You too,” The femole wiped her hands on her moleveralls. “What brings you down here? We’re dredging the tunnels as you can see,” the mole stood a little straighter. “Loamy says it’ll take a week to completely clear them, but I think my crew can do it in five days.”

“Good. That’s pretty fast,” he jerked his thumb in the direction of the departing crew. “Nice little fan club you two got going. What’s that all about?“

If a mole could blush, the mole couple would be bright red. Sandy spoke up. “Oh, they’re making a big deal out of nothing.“

Clay nudged her shoulder and she giggled. “It’s hardly nothing. Y’see, during the flood, Sandy and I happened to be near the mole nurseries. We didn’t have time to get help, so we dammed up the tunnels and saved a the little pups' lives. Sandy came up with the idea.“ The young male seemed incredibly proud of his mate.

“It wasn’t a really big deal, not until Loamy interviewed us for The Daily Burrow,“ Sandy continued. “Copies of the issue flew off the shelves! All the other moles called us heroes. Now all the younger moles want to know our opinions on digging techniques and ways of dealing with carnivorous mold.”

Davenport looked at Clay. “That’s great, congratulations. Hey, I’m down here to find Loamy. My new boss, Doctor Caligari sent me to ask about something Loamy was keeping safe.
I have a map to her place but…” he hesitated.

“You want to know if she’s still alive?” Clay understood and pointed towards a tunnel. “She’s okay. She did better than some moles with two working claws. Meatwall is living with her now. She’ll be glad to see you.” Clay lowered his voice. “Did you hear about…Doctor West?”

Davenport raised his eyebrows. “You moles hear everything. Yeah, I did. Damn shame, he was an Outsider, but he helped save the city.” He didn’t want to give the young mole any false hope.

Sandy shrugged modestly, “When you travel all over the city repairing tunnels, you hear things.” She turned away from the human and back to her crew. “All right you pups, break’s over.” The moles shuffled back to work and Davenport continued down the tunnel.

“Bye, Clay. Bye, Sandy”

“Bye…Davenport.”

Davenport arrived at a round little mole hole with a black tarp acting as a door. Unsure how to knock on a tarp, he called out. “Hey, Loamy? This is Edward Davenport. Doctor Caligari sent me to see about something she asked you keep safe for her. Do you mind if I come in? Please.”

“Mister Davenport? Yes, of course. Come right in.”

Bienvenido, Senor.”

He parted the tarp and walked in, crouching a bit because of the low ceiling. The sound of the wall of flesh’s voice was the most horrifying sound he’d ever heard, other than the ants. He hope the femole wouldn’t let the thing eat him.

The one-armed mole was sitting in an overstuffed chair reading a book. The former VP tilted his head until he could read the title, The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine. The femole managed a smile when she saw his interest. “It’s amazing what gets washed down ‘ere, innit?” She pointed to the chair across from her. “’Ave a seat, Mister Davenport. Would you like some chai?”

“Only if you’re having some, thanks.” He tucked in his tie and sat down, careful not to brush against Meatwall.

Loamy rose from her chair and busied herself preparing tea. Davenport stopped himself from asking if she needed help because he didn’t want to insult the very independent femole. “Anyway, like I said, Caligari sent me to find you. She said you were holding some very important communications equipment.”

“So, the doctor’s still alive, is she?” the femole asked eagerly. “Good to know. Yes, Doctor Caligari trusted me to keep some of her things safe. She sent them in waterproof cases to keep dust and moisture off ‘em so they survived the flood. Smart woman, that Caligari, always thinking ahead,” Loamy added fondly. “‘Ere’s your chai, Mister Davenport.” Loamy set the tea tray on the table a little harder than she intended and hot liquid sloshed onto the man’s leg.

“Ouch!” Davenport leapt to his feet and dabbed at the hot spot with a sodden handkerchief. “Dammit, Loamy, why don’t you- Sorry, sorry, Loamy. I lost my temper.” He sat back down and tried to act like a grateful guest. “Thank you very much for the tea. It smells wonderful.”

Loamy sniffled but did not cry. “You don’t have to drink it if you don’t like it, sir. I won’t be offended,” she told her visitor with an air of injured dignity.

“No, I want to! See?” He gingerly picked up the cup and blew on it to cool it. Then he took a cautious sip and put down the cup. “It’s delicious. You know, I tried to make chai when I was a barista, but I could never get it right.”

“The trick is to not oversteep the tea or it gets bitter. Me, I like to add an extra bit of cardamom,” the femole seemed to accept his apology. “Now then, back to business,” Loamy placed her remaining claw in her lap and addressed Davenport. “Why does Doctor Caligari need this equipment? There are not too many people she’d need to contact any more. I’m sure the Company could provide her with a phone if she needs to make a call.”

“Oy! You there!” Loamy stood up and grabbed a water bottle. “Bad Meatwall! We do not eat friends!”

Davenport hadn’t realized the living meat was eating the back of his jacket until he felt a sharp tug as it tried to rip the coat off him. “Hey, get this freak of nature off me!”

Loamy sprayed Meatwall until they let the jacket go. “Lo sciento, mi amiga,” they snarled in the voice of the legion before settling down.

The man leaned forward to keep from coming in contact with the undulating flesh. “Why the hell is The Meatwall thing doing living with you? I thought you guys ate grubs and earthworms.”

“Their name is Meatwall, not The Meatwall,” the femole corrected primly. “They’re a sentient being of sorts and deserve rights and their own identity. We‘re forming a union.”

This was the weirdest conversation Davenport could remember having but the mole had a point. “You’re absolutely right. Sorry, uh…Meatwall,” he addressed West’s creation.

No problema.”

The human coughed into his hand. This was not going as smoothly as he thought it would. It was taking too much time and he wanted to be back to his tent before lights out. “Well, back to my earlier point. Caligari needs this equipment because there’s some people she wants to contact, people Hartlife wouldn’t want her talking to.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “She thinks West and company might still be alive somewhere.”

Padre, Madre, y mi hermano? Es verdad?”

“Pull the other one,” Loamy scratched her chin and frowned at Davenport. “Me cousin told me that a Street Safe agent said they’d been vaporized. Poof! Gone.”

The man shrugged. “Hey, it ain’t my place to say whether she’s right or wrong but the doctor thinks they’re alive and kicking somewhere and I trust her instincts.”

He looked the femole in the eyes. “Caligari trusts you so I will too. There’s supposed to be some sorta radio transceiver in the stuff she gave you. She wants you to give me two of the handheld devices for us to use and for you to start broadcasting on as many frequencies as you can. Street Safe is undermanned right now but make sure you always use the scramblers. If West or Snidge are out there and can here you, they should pick up your signal and answer. Caligari claims she left some similar equipment somewhere for safekeeping. If you hear from them, radio us. Do not come to the tower or seek us out. We’ll keep in touch with the handhelds.”

“Not good to draw attention to meself,” Loamy agreed. “People tend to ignore us moles but they’ll remember a one armed mole.”

Davenport nodded. “Yup. Moreover, you’re important to Caligari’s plans. You gotta stay safe and get the job done.”

The femole’s eyes lit up when she heard the word “job”. “Doing important work again! A job not just any mole can do! A femole with wits and daring, that’s me!” She grabbed the former VP’s hand and shook it. “We’ll show those toffs what for, won’t we, Mister?”

“Sure.” Somehow Davenport wasn’t surprised the mole responsible for The Daily Burrow would enjoy carrying out a subversive operation right under Hartlife’s nose.

Loamy got up. “Wait ‘ere. I keep that transceiver thing in me bedroom. Won’t take a tick to get you your equipment,” she said and lumbered off to her sleeping chamber.

Davenport sipped his cooling tea and squirted Meatwall when they got too close again.

The femole returned with a bag. “Right, what you need is in this bag, sir. I’ve cleverly disguised it in me old lunch pail.” She handed it to him.

“Thank you very much, Loamy.” He got to his feet and looked back at Meatwall. “Um…adios, I guess.”

Hasta la vista.”

Davenport passed Sandy and Clay one more time on his way back to the tent city. They were a lot farther along in the dredging process than they had been when he arrived, thanks to Sandy’s leadership. That femole was management material.

As he neared his temporary residence, he schooled his face and posture to look defeated, downtrodden. He couldn’t share what he knew, lest they become a target or rat him out to the Company. If Erin would, anyone would and most people he knew owed him a lot less than his daughter did.

A slow burning fire ignited in him. West and Caligari had helped save the city and he had a chance to repay them. The Company discounted every policy they were supposed to be helping. Even the Directors themselves demanded unquestioning loyalty but never gave any in return.

The good doctor’s plan would repair the foundations of Hartlife but those bastards in the Tower? They were overdue for a shakedown. He hoped he would have a good seat from which to watch karma unfold.


Just imagine, readers! Edward Davenport has evolved from a Company man who looked down on moles to treating them as equals. Loamy is not the naïve adventuress she used to be. What good can come from cross-species respect and friendship? Has the Company truly been thwarted? Why do I keep asking rhetorical questions? Keep a close eye on…The Science Family Adventures.

 

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                                                                                                                     The Science Family Adventures

 

Chapter Five: Homeostasis

 

The weeks that followed were the best of young Andrew Snidge’s life.

That was not to say they were perfect and blissful. He still had fits of crying and sometimes woke up screaming from nightmares. Every time these incidents happened, his new parents were there to soothe him. They listened to his fears, hugged him, and on one notable occasion, sang him a song about the periodic table.

All three of the Snidge-West family had more than enough to keep themselves busy. Herbert was building weapons and other devices he was sure would prove useful along the way. Andrew assisted him when he wasn’t working on his own creations; including body armor that was no heavier than every day clothes. Elizabeth grew and harvested the newly dubbed Meatwall Junior and planned their route, decided what supplies they would take and what they would leave behind and kept her family on a daily schedule.

Doctor West greatly enjoyed his new fatherhood. There were times Andrew still slipped and called him “Doctor West” but every time the young man referred to the scientist as “Dad” Herbert wriggled all over like a happy puppy.

Elizabeth was usually pleased with her content little family but every now and then when she looked at Andrew, she felt a twinge of guilt. Nathan should be there, if not in Andrew’s place then at least laughing, joking, and having the pleasure of a loving father figure as well. Logically she knew it wasn’t her fault Nathan disappeared. She had a feeling he’d done something to Andrew but the boy refused to mention her biological son and involuntarily flinched every time she mentioned Nathan’s name. Well, Nathan made his choices and she made her own, for good or ill. She was tired feeling guilty and angry over someone who was so sure he was right he refused to listen. He had tried to kill her. Even a mother found that hard to forgive.

She set long strips of Meatwall to dry in a dehydrator Doctor Caligari had left in the cabin and watched her “men” discuss the pocket greenhouse Herbert had built so they could grow something besides algae to eat on their journey. Elizabeth wasn’t quite sure how it worked; something about a miniature fusion reactor and being bigger on the inside.

By her calculation, it had been nearly a month since they had been teleported into Caligari’s safe house. They probably could have left a week ago and she knew Caligari’s little snow car was packed and all the extra ion batteries were charged and stored.

Elizabeth could probably have rationalized the delay to herself by the notion they needed more Meatwall jerky or dried food. She could have considered the fact her son was still in mourning and they were all in shock, missing home, even missing Emily. None of the reasons she could have come up with were quite true.

Physically all three of them were fine. Andrew looked healthy and had been practicing self-defense every day with Herbert. Caligari had left swords in the cabin and Herbert was teaching Andrew how to fence. The small amount of Andrew’s brain that still contained Benedict was proving very useful to coordination and reflexes.

Emotionally, Andrew was still recovering. He wasn’t the shell-shocked wreck he was a few weeks ago and Elizabeth knew from experience it could be months, years or never before Andrew was ready to risk falling in love again. That was fine. She wasn’t ready to give up her kid to another woman’s care any time soon.

The problem was Andrew wasn’t trying to get better. He ate, slept, and built incredibly useful things. He laughed and joked with Herbert and learned from his father. Andrew talked to her about their plans and helped her carry things to the car or pack, even though she hardly needed help lifting anything. In fact, she could hear him grunting while he helped her with a particularly heavy load. He said and did everything right; she had been a mother long enough to see right through him. Andrew was afraid.

She thought about dropping subtle hints to Herbert but alas, subtlety was hardly Herbert’s strong suit. Elizabeth wondered if the man knew what the word meant. She decided to best course of action was to wait until Andrew went to bed and have a simple, direct talk with Doctor West.

“Herbert,” she spoke softly once Andrew had retired to the only bedroom. Neither she nor Herbert needed much sleep any more. “We need to talk about Andrew.”

The scientist’s eyes lit up at the mention of his new son’s name. “Yes. Isn’t it marvelous?” Herbert kept his voice lowered but only just. “The boy has really taken to the life of a scientist. Well, more engineering than science but his work on the geoship has really awoken something wonderful in him.” Herbert clasped his hands around Elizabeth’s and squeezed.

“Oh, my dear! I never thought I would have the chance to be a father.” He stopped for a moment and thought about it. “Well, to be honest, I was never sure I wanted to be. However, I couldn’t be happier! Now, Andrew wanted to work on a wind-powered battery so we wouldn’t have to be too reliant on the ion batteries. With as windy as it is out here, I think the idea holds promise and-” he broke off when he realized not only did Elizabeth not share his enthusiasm; she was staring at him gravely.

Herbert dropped her hands and sighed. “Sorry, my dear. I do get carried away in my scientific enthusiasm.” He smiled wistfully. “It’s so refreshing to have a protégé who shares that fervor with me.”

Elizabeth couldn‘t help but beam at his passion. “I understand and I think it’s great you and Andrew have so much in common.” She leaned forward. “And if he weren’t using science as a way to avoid his problems, I wouldn’t be so concerned. She peered into his mismatched eyes. “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”

“Ah, but what use would it be to lie to you, Elizabeth?” Herbert replied fondly. “You are a driven and insightful woman, as observant as any scientist.” He took her hand. “I had tried not to see it, but-”

“Andrew is…languishing here. He can’t or won’t move forward, he won’t talk about it and…well…” Elizabeth sighed. “We can’t stay in this place forever, lovely and comfortable as it is. Emily might need our help. Our other friends too. Maybe we don’t want to live in Hartlife any more, but we can’t leave them behind.” She looked up at Herbert. “And we can’t let Andrew stay and wallow in self-pity while he refuses to move forward. I hate to say it but, we’re enablers.”

Herbert looked as if he wanted to argue with her but gave up. “I can’t argue with your logic, my dear. What would you suggest?”

Elizabeth considered his question thoughtfully. “After breakfast in the morning I’ll head out and go hunting for a wolf’s skin. You and I may not feel the cold very much but Andrew will freeze out there. Some extra meat wouldn’t hurt either-”

“It never does,” Herbert agreed.

“While I’m gone you and Andrew can have a father-son chat,” Elizabeth noticed Herbert was beaming at the term. She grabbed his chin gently so she could look into his eyes. “Don’t let him bamboozle you. He knows you enjoy being a father even more than he enjoys having parents. He might use that to his advantage.”

Herbert caressed Elizabeth’s cheek. “You’re right, my dear. For our family and young Andrew’s future, I’ll do my best.”


                                                                                            *****

“So you boys start the final checklist for supplies. I’ve harvested Meatwall Junior for the last time,” she glanced at the wall. The creature was a mere quarter of the size it had been as it hung above some old communications equipment even Herbert couldn’t figure how to turn on. “I’ll try not to be long.”

“Be careful, okay, Mom?” Andrew looked pale and fearful. None of them had been farther than the work shed or garage since they had arrived and he looked at his mother as if she’d disappear if she left his sight.

“Not to worry, my boy!” Herbert clapped a hand on the boy’s shoulder hard enough to rattle the younger man. “Your mother’s body is built out of the strongest materials Hartlife had to offer. Why, her skeleton is mostly durium! The wolves are the ones who should be afraid!” Andrew didn’t look very assured.

Elizabeth smiled at his concern. “If the howling we heard last night is any indication, it’s a very small pack, Andrew.” She hefted a rifle over her shoulder and walked to the door. “I’ll be back by lunchtime,” she promised as she opened it, “you boys have fun and get your chores finished by the time I get back.” With a significant look at Herbert, she was gone.

“Bye baby bunting,” Herbert sang as he rummaged through a toolbox for a screwdriver, “Mama’s gone a-hunting. Gone to get a wolf’s thick skin. To wrap her little Andrew in.” Finding the tool he needed, he looked at his son. “One more little engine tune-up and then we can go over our departure checklist! Must press on to civilization you know! Emily won’t rescue herself, that stubborn miss.” Without looking to see if Andrew was following him, Herbert headed to the garage.

The younger man scrambled to keep up with him. “Hey, wait! What about that wind turbine?”

“Oh, we can knock that out in the next four hours!” Herbert assured him. “Come now, lad, science and preparatory tasks await!”

                                                                                  ******

“Now then, did we pack the provisions?”

“Yes.”

“Algae bars, dried food, Meatwall jerky?”

“Check.”

“Herbs and spices?”

“Of course.”

“Tool kit? Weapons locker? First aid satchel?”

“Ready.”

“Extra batteries, change of clothing, toiletries?”

“Naturally.”

“Hmm,” Herbert looked over the checklist and noted the neat little X’s next to each item. He grinned at Andrew and rubbed his hands together. “Well! All we have to do now is finish that wind turbine while we await Elizabeth’s return.” He pulled out his pocket watch and consulted it. “Ah, an hour and half until she’s due back. Probably sooner! She terribly efficient at hunting you know.”

Andrew shuddered at the thought of his mother alone surrounded by wolves and decided to change the subject. “I’m amazed you were able to pack all this stuff in only one car, Doctor…Dad.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, my lad. When you’ve moved as much as I have, you pick up a trick or two. Or…learn to bend space,” Herbert answered modestly and continued to assemble the turbine.

“You know,” the scientist said with deliberate casualness twenty minutes later, “it’s all right to miss Cassie.”

Andrew nodded. “I know,” he said softly and blinked a few times.

Doctor West waited until the young man regained his composure and then continued, “and being afraid is not only natural, one could also say it’s an evolutionary advantage. Makes one smarter, more creative in the attempt to survive.” He put aside his tools and looked at his son. “The problem arises when one allows fear and grief to stop one from moving forward.”

The younger man looked away. He didn’t want to hear this, even though he knew his new father was right.

Herbert would not be deterred. “Yes, we are safe here. We have food, we can melt snow for water, and once the wind turbine is finished, we would have nigh infinite power. Nevertheless, that’s just existing. It isn’t living, it’s stagnation, my boy.”

The doctor chose his words carefully. “I was young once, Andrew. I’ve had my loneliness and rejection. You must feel like your heart is damaged beyond repair. It isn’t and staying here where it’s safe wouldn’t make you heal any faster anyway. You’re just…numbing yourself.”

Both men were silent for so long, it was nearly uncomfortable and Doctor West began to speak again.

"Did you know, Andrew, it's not actually possible to stitch the heart back together? The heart is a muscle and the act of pumping blood pops the stitches right out. No, my boy, to repair the heart you must make a patch and then..."

Andrew felt confused. "Doc…err…Dad? How is this relevant to my situation?"

"Sorry. My mind was wandering, dear lad. Now, what were we discussing again?”

The younger man looked down. “Cassie. That staying here isn’t really making me better, it’s just helping me hide, pretend.”

“Ah! Yes!” Herbert was proud of his son’s insight. “Those fools at the Science Academy have no idea who they rejected, do they? You’re quite right.”

Herbert sat down on a workbench and indicated Andrew should sit beside him. "What you're experiencing now my boy is what's known as homeostasis: a system in which variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant. While you were recovering from your...loss this was all well and good."

Herbert sighed. He was not good with the softer emotions of life but for his...son...he would try. "You are so, so much stronger now, Andrew. Are you the person you were scant weeks ago? No, that Andrew is gone and will never exist again. I am not the person I was seven...years ago and I don't just mean my bodily changes."
Herbert gave in to his impulse to pull the boy closer into a tight hug. "For an organism to survive, from the simple algae to the complexity of Man, it must change. If change cannot be achieved it will stagnate." Herbert dropped his arms and scooted away from Andrew.

His face was as serious and grave as the young man had ever seen. "I know, it's safe here and the outside world is frightening. However, without change, there is no discovery of self, no growth into maturity, and no true independence. We'll always support you, Andrew, but if we allow you to stay here and wallow in your pain we're not helping." The scientist took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "We would be bad parents."

Andrew rubbed his eyes in an attempt to keep from crying in front of his father again. He sat and considered Herbert’s words for a long time before speaking again.

“You’re right,” he said at last. Andrew fidgeted as he spoke, embarrassed. “I know we have to leave, I’ve known for a long time. I’m…scared. Scared I’m not strong enough to get back to Hartlife. I could…let you and Mom down. I could get us all killed.”

“And you could save the world. You could discover a lost civilization. You could invent something spectacular. You could be crowned King of El Paso!” Herbert finished dramatically and smiled warmly. “No one really knows what the future holds. Why, even a time traveler will say there are so many possible timelines one couldn‘t possibly count them all! Dear boy, you can’t prevent all the bad in the world from happening. Moreover, it’s pointless to hide in a cave from the good. All we can do is…” Herbert paused deliberately.

“To…finish the wind turbine?” Andrew offered.

“Correct!” Herbert was not such an optimist that he thought all of the boy’s problems were now over but at least the lad looked a bit more hopeful. Together they finished the project and smiled at each other; Herbert proud, Andrew shy but pleased.

“I’m back!” Elizabeth burst through the door, pelt on one shoulder, and meat on the other. Swirls of snow escaped into the cabin before she kicked the door closed behind her. “Let me get the rest of this meat butchered, then I’ll sew the hide into a coat for you, Andrew.”

“And…” Herbert pulled out his pocket watch yet again, “…twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Wonderful, my dear!” He nudged Andrew’s shoulder. “Be a dear and help your mother. There’s a good lad.”

“Yes sir, Dad!” Andrew looked a bit more cheerful as he leapt to his feet to help his mother. “Thanks, Dad,” he whispered over his shoulder to Doctor West.

Herbert just smiled, feeling accomplished. Perhaps with time and perseverance he may yet become a good parent. He was fortunate to have his darling Elizabeth to guide him.

Elizabeth grinned at the men in her family. “So…are we ready to go?”

“After a quick lunch of Meatwall and algae bars, Dear.” Herbert put away his tools and tidied up as Elizabeth and Andrew told each other about their day.

                                                                                 ****

At precisely 1pm, the Snidge-Wests loaded up any remaining miscellaneous items into the car. Herbert drove while Elizabeth lounged beside him. Andrew decided to keep an eye out for wolves, warm and safe in his new wolf pelt.

“We should be at the next shelter by sundown tomorrow. It‘s slightly safer to drive during the day and I don‘t want to risk hitting any ice formations in the dark.” Elizabeth consulted the map. “We’ll camp in the car. Herbert, you packed the camp stove, right?”

“Of course, Dear.”

“Faster, Dad,” Andrew called from the back seat. “To infinity…and…beyond infinity!”

                                                                       *****

Left behind and forgotten, Meatwall Junior sagged against their wall. There wasn’t enough left of them to even vocalize and in their primitive…brain…for lack of a better term, they felt lonely.

The communications equipment Herbert thought was inoperable began a low hum, brought to life by Loamy’s remote activation.

"Loamy calling Doctor West, Andrew and Elizabeth...right, sorry. Loamy and Meatwall calling, if you're there, please respond..."

The message repeated for almost a half hour. Junior was stymied, unable to respond as a strange voice called to them, asking for the people who had left them behind.

Oh! Such dramatic bad timing, dear readers! Fear not, for Loamy is resourceful and determined and not one to give up on the first try. Had our heroes heard her transmission…well, the story wouldn’t be as interesting would it, for what is a story without out conflict? A boring one, that’s what. See what is in store as we continue…The Science Family Adventures.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                                 The Science Family Adventures

 

Interlude One: Loamy

 

“Honey, I’m home! Oh, right…I’m not married.” Loamy struggled out of her poncho and tossed it onto an exposed pipe she used as a coat rack. Meatwall heard her enter and began the manipulation and expulsion of gasses through and between folds of flesh to speak to her with their rudimentary mouth.

Buenos tardes, amiga Loamy.”

“Oh! Er…afternoon, Meatwall.” Loamy crossed the room to her small kitchen and filled the kettle with water. Once filled, she put the kettle on the stove to make chai. “Let me just pop the stove on and I’ll trim you up a bit.” Loamy did her best to sound cheerful. The Daily Burrow’s circulation was higher than ever and it was difficult distributing them all herself. She thought about asking Clay to help part time.

“Si, gracias.”

She glanced over at her new tunnel mate. “Somethin’ wrong, dearie? Are you about to sprout arms?” Meatwall looked like it was budding again.

No. Soy triste.”

“Is that like being sad?” Meatwall was a fine roommate, didn’t take up much space, and helped keep The Mold fed so she didn’t have to worry about intruders.

“Si.”

“I’m sad too,” Loamy sighed and sat in her chair across from Meatwall. She lowered her voice in the off chance someone from The Company was listening. “I miss Doctor Caligari. I know she safe, in the Tower, but…” the femole sighed again. “I miss her. Sure, she was rude and unpleasant. Sure, she barely valued us moles more than the Company, but…I miss her.”

“Yo comprendo. Mi perder mi padre, la madre y su hermano mayor.”

“Do you mean Doctor West, Miss Elizabeth, and Mister Andrew?” Loamy shuddered as she thought of the re-animator but smiled a bit as she thought of the young man. “Mister Andrew’s a nice enough chap. Shame about Miss Cassie.” Loamy bowed her head respectfully as she said the young woman’s name.

Vaya con Dios, senorita.”

“Poor girl. I’m not sure if there’s a Worm Farm in the Sky for people, but if there is, Miss Cassie deserves to be there.”

“Si.”

The kettle whistled and Loamy hurried to her feet, turned off the stove, and poured herself a cup of chai. After assembling a few tea biscuits on a plate, she made two trips to the small coffee table. She and Meatwall sat in companionable silence as she munched the green tinged cookies and carefully sipped her tea.

“Meatwall,” she said as she carefully set down her cup and looked at them, “you’ve observed people, livin’ where you did. What do you know about…love?”

The femole winced as she said it. “Love” was an unfamiliar word, a people word, and it made her uncomfortable to say it aloud.

“UN poco. Mi madre ama a mi padre. Mi hermano amaba a la senorita Cassie.”

“Er…I suppose.” Loamy couldn’t make out more than a few words of Spanish but she was sure Meatwall was doing all they could to be supportive. “Well, it’s like this…” she took a deep breath and began to speak earnestly.

“I think…oh, I can’t even say it!” Loamy threw up her hands in frustration.

“Si, tu puedes. Continue por favor.”

“Well…the thing is…Doctor Caligari.”

“Oh, usted piensa que esta enamorado de Ella?”

Loamy toyed with her moleveralls nervously. “I thought at first it was gratitude. Doctor Caligari saved me life, even if she couldn’t save me arm.” She rubbed the remaining stump thoughtfully. “Sure, it was because Mister Neal negotiated with her on me behalf. However, then she did it again, when that renegade brain took over Mister Andrew’s body. Me, a mole…she ‘urt ‘erself to do it too. “

Loamy shrugged. “Sure, once could have been a fluke but she saved me twice. Caligari’s rude, she never says ‘please’ and she’s about as kind as granite. Yet…and yet…I suppose you could say…I’ve grown accustomed to ‘er face. Not to mention ‘er bad attitude. She trusted me, y’know, with her special radio equipment. It was while she and Doctor West were workin’ on that mighty impressive drill thing.” The femole’s voice drifted off and she allowed herself to remember. It had been right after the Tower had asked the two scientists to build that ill-fated earth drill. Doctor Caligari had made a special trip to Loamy’s burrow to speak to her.

Loamy, this is very important, the doctor had said. This geoship project is a huge deal. Not just for me, but for Hartlife as well. However, something seems off. Past Caligari had taken her glasses off and cleaned them on the corner of her lab coat. Loamy remembered thinking how beautiful the person’s eyes were without them. The scientist had noticed her gaze and turned a bit pink.

West seems to think you moles are worth trusting and let’s face it, you owe me one. In this case, I’ve put some emergency communications equipment in case the project goes wrong and we go missing. Caligari had placed her hands on her hips and glared off at nothing. That ship’s design is horribly flawed. Whom the HELL puts a self-destruct button in the middle of the panel?! Ugh. If anything goes wrong, Wynn will have the perfect patsies in West and me. Now they have Chamberlain guarding us. For the sake of the project, of course. I have an escape route planned but we’ll need to keep in touch. Moreover, let’s face it; West couldn’t plan his way out of a wet paper bag. The man has no foresight.

Loamy remembered the doctor’s voice took on a note of almost fond exasperation when she spoke of the flesh chiseler and she felt ill for a minute. Well, Elizabeth would kill them both if anything happened. However she couldn’t help but feel a bit happy when she thought of how the important scientist had trusted a lowly one-armed femole.

Amiga Loamy?”

Loamy shook herself out of her daydream and looked up at Meatwall. “Sorry, was off in me own head. This…thing I feel for Doctor Caligari. I think it may be more than just…like-like. It may be something more intense, seein’ ‘ow there’s a person involved. People call this…love.” If Loamy had been human she might have blushed. “It sounds so silly when I say it out loud.”

“Pas du tout. L’amour est beau. Mon amie Loamy est belle. Si elle ne peut pas voir que, on n’a pas besoin d’elle.”

Loamy shrugged. “I s’pose, wot you’re tryin’ to say is…I should…like-like…love meself and if Doctor Caligari…Emily loves me, that’s wonderful. But if she doesn’t, it’s her loss?”

“Exactamundo.”

Loamy managed a smile. She followed about ten percent of what Meatwall was trying to tell her but that didn’t matter. The fact that a wall of ungulating flesh cared enough about her to try to help meant more than all the languages in the world could express.

“Thank you, Meatwall. That ‘elped a lot.”

“De rien.”

The two friends sat in silence again as Loamy finished off the dregs of her now cold chai. She pursed her lips thoughtfully and spoke.

“Y’know, it’s a bit awkward to keep calling you ‘Meatwall’,” she said finally. “What about if I give you a real name? You’re a person, after a fashion. Wot do you think of the name…’Matt’? Matt Meatwall. It’s a real proper name, first and last.”

Meatwall’s pseudo-face fluctuated as they thought. The buds on their flesh grew a bit as they finally said, “Si. Me gusta.”

“Glad you like it!” Loamy put her tea dishes in the sink and grabbed some kitchen shears. “Let me just snip off a bit of you from the bottom to feed the Mold and Bob’s your uncle! Oh!” Loamy thought for a moment. “It occurs to me ‘the Mold” isn’t any better of a name than ‘the Meatwall’. Let’s say we give our friend Mold a proper name too.”

“Pourquoi pas?”

“Right then!” Meatwall bits in hand, Loamy parted the tarp that covered her doorway and called to her carnivorous watch fungus.

“Hello, dearie! It’s dinner time!”

The Mold appeared around the corner, crawling through the tunnel like an arachnid. It saw the meat in Loamy’s and stopped, growling what could have been a greeting or a demand for food.

The femole nearly threw the food offering into the Mold’s waiting maw and hesitated. “Today everyone is getting a proper name. What do you think of the name Molly? Molly Mold.”

The fungus made what could be an affirmative and Loamy nodded as if she understood. “Molly it is!” She threw the meat to the mold and watched as it devoured their meal as quickly as it devoured…everything else.

“’Night, Molly. Don’t eat the neighbors.” Loamy went back inside her burrow and sat down in her chair. She felt an indescribable feeling of peace; it felt good to pour out her feelings to someone. She was lucky to have met the semi-sentient growing wall of meat. Now like herself Matt could develop their own sense of self’ perhaps even choose if they wanted to identify as male or female. Then again, Matt could be non-binary and that was fine too. Molly was a bit different but Loamy could swear the carnivorous fungus had gotten smarter since she had been feeding them bits of Matt so perhaps one day Molly could communicate as easily as Matt could.

Loamy sat for a few more minutes and savored the thought of forming her own unconventional family of choice. Her, Molly, Matt and perhaps one day…Doctor Emily Caligari.

The last thought cheered her up immensely and she made her way over to the radio equipment to try to signal Doctor West and company again.

Ah, poor sad lonely Loamy is lonely no longer! Hey, I think I just made a tongue twister. Now she's the head of an even more unusual family than Herbert West. Quite a hat trick. We'll eventually return to the main story in...The Science Family Adventures.

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                                      The Science Family Adventures

 

Chapter Six: Planet of the Badgers

 

Trigger Warning: Contains violence, cannibalism, and snakes.

 

“Are you sure you have everything you need, dear?” Elizabeth gave once last worried glance at the cabin and then back at Andrew.

The young man rolled his eyes and pretended to be exasperated. “Yes, Mom.” His tone was aggrieved but he couldn‘t help smiling at her concern. She smiled back.

“Right, then. Let this family road trip commence!” Herbert hustled his small family unit into the waiting vehicle. Once he was sure everyone was safely buckled in, he started the ignition. “And here we go!”

As the frozen landscape breezed past them, Herbert called over his shoulder to his son. “Why don’t we sing a traveling song to pass the time? The wheels on the bus go-”

“Um…Doctor-Dad? What’s a bus?”

“I’ve read about them,” Elizabeth volunteered. “Think of a single car on a people mover and add larger rubber wheels. Then add a conductor called a driver and you get the idea.”

“More or less, my dear. Now, we are about one hundred miles from Hart Life and we have roughly four hours of daylight left. This vehicle only has a top speed of twenty miles an hour. Still, it beats walking.” Herbert fiddled with the heater while he drove.

Andrew nodded emphatically. “Let’s not do that again.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to add something but whatever she was going to say was lost forever as the wind turbine on the back of the vehicle began to slow down. The three travelers looked at each other as the blades of the turbine screeched and then sped up. The vehicle groaned around them and then accelerated, shooting its passengers across the ice.

“Hold on to something!” Herbert shouted. Elizabeth latched on to the grab handle while Andrew braced himself against the driver’s seat. The scientist did his best to keep the vehicle under control as the stress of the unsafe speed caused the engine to spark and then catch on fire. The vehicle spun three times and skidded to a crash.

The small family cried out as they half-jolted out of their seats, held in place only by a fragile strip of fabric. After several shaky breaths, they looked at each other and tried to make sense of what happened.

Herbert hurriedly unfastened his seat belt and his passengers followed suit, each person throwing open their door. “We should probably walk a safe distance from the car. Ion batteries aren’t nearly as explosive as gasoline but let’s not take chances, shall we?”

Elizabeth and Andrew nodded their agreement and dutifully trudged away from the vehicle. The smart little snow car was on fire but only the engine. The trunk and storage boxes on the roof seemed undamaged. The attached wind turbine gave a low groan and then toppled off the car.

Herbert tried to be cheerful. “Well! On the bright side, the fire should keep Andrew warm on the frozen wasteland.”

Elizabeth was about to agree when the flames flickered and slowly died. Both Snidges looked at the scientist, who looked up at the sky and rubbed his bald pate thoughtfully. “Huh.”

“Herbert?”

“Yes, my love?”

“Stop jinxing us.”

Herbert looked abashed. “As you wish.”

Andrew looked from one parent to another; afraid they were going to fight again. Elizabeth sensed her son’s distress and pulled him close.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” she told him. “I’m just worried about you.” She looked at the scientist. “Herbert and I are fine. Cold no longer affects us, but you…” she cut herself off.

Andrew loved her concern but was a bit tired of being babied. “I’m fine! Look…I’m wearing that super cool wolf pelt you got me!”

“Yes indeed!” Herbert checked the car to see if it had cooled and began unloading the supplies. “And I’m sure I can cobble something together to make transporting our belongings easier. We can still travel as originally planned…just…a bit slower.” He saw his son’s face fall and rushed on. “Plus! We have this lovely camping equipment as well as ion batteries for the electric lanterns and the camp stove! Therefore, heat and light are taken care of. Nothing to worry yourselves about.”

“And the…wolves?” Andrew asked timidly.

Elizabeth tapped her chest with her thumb. “That’s what Mom is here for.”

As they began to sort through their belongings in search of the tool kit Andrew couldn’t help but tease his father. “Doctor Caligari is going to kill you when she sees what you did to her car.”


                                                                                                                                            ******

“And…TAH-DA! One motorized cart large enough to carry all of our things!” Herbert told Elizabeth and Andrew cheerfully after they salvaged enough material to build a handcart. “Don’t worry!” The scientist tried to be optimistic. “We have food and weapons and plenty of medical supplies and…” he stopped and looked at the ground at their feet. “Did anyone else hear a click?”

The once solid ground opened up below them and the Snidge-Wests plummeted underground, their equipment and provisions far above them, useless.

                                                                                                                                             *****

The first thing Elizabeth Snidge (nee Rourke) noticed when she opened her eyes were she was pinned under an unconscious Andrew. The second thing she notices was that Herbert was already on his feet, hands at his sides. She hoped he was wearing his fighting trousers.

The third and probably most significant thing she noticed was they were surrounded by very large clothed badgers. Each creature wore a green badge with a snake emblem. The badgers had rifles pointed at their heads.

Herbert’s eyes shone with glee. Noticing she was awake, he cried out, “Look, Elizabeth! Badgers! Sentient badgers! They have the most delightful accents too. Oooh, it’s all my Christmases at once!”

Elizabeth frowned and tried to push Andrew off her but was stopped by a badger shoving a muzzle against her head. She pretended to relax. “What’s Christmas?”

“It’s a bit like Exclusion Day but with less elitism.” The scientist was almost bouncing from sheer joy. Really, that man had no survival instinct. One would think being surrounded by armed badgers would give the man pause but Herbert was probably imagining all the scientific possibilities.

One of the badgers spoke. “Humans. How disgusting.” He or she glared down at Elizabeth but addressed his or her companions. “Clean them up then take them to be interrogated. They must be a scouting party.”

“Now see here my good…now see here,” Elizabeth tried to reason with the spokesbadger. “We’re not invaders or spies, nor do we mean your people any harm. We’re just lost and trying to make our way back to the Hart Life tower so if you could just show us a way back to our belongings we’ll be on our way.”

The head badger didn’t reply. They acted offended the former Street Safe officer spoke to them, like a trained parrot saying a profane word. They signaled to the other badgers and Elizabeth was yanked to her feet. Two badgers grabbed Andrew and the three were frog marched through a series of tunnels.

                                                                                                                                                             *****

After a humiliating bath where her stitched face and artificial body were inventoried like merchandise, Elizabeth found herself with a now awake Andrew and Herbert, waiting in a small room with no furniture. She was thankful they hadn’t thought to ask if her body was detachable. Andrew seemed more curious than afraid and Herbert kept muttering “Badger badger,” under his breath like a protective spell.

“Fascinating, really,” Herbert was saying to Andrew, “at first I thought our badger hosts were some sort of earlier experiment of Doctor Moro. Now that I have had time to reflect I think it’s entirely possible they’re some sort of mega fauna similar to Repenomamus giganticus or Chamitataxus avitus . Those are both very large, extinct badger species. I’m not sure how they became bipedal or intelligent. Perhaps radiation due to…”

The scientist broke off when he realized both of his traveling companions were staring at him. “Sorry, babbling again. This is just so exciting!”

“Herbert, they probably want to kill us,” Elizabeth pointed out. “You saw how they looked at us, like humans are vermin to be eradicated. So maybe you should stop getting so excited about all the scientific possibilities and think of a plan.”

“Pish posh, my dear,” Herbert waved away her concerns. “You and I are all but indestructible. Why, the badger people could shoot me point blank in the chest and all it would really do is-” he stopped as he and Elizabeth turned to look at Andrew. The boy’s fencing abilities were coming along nicely but he was unarmed, vulnerable.

Andrew felt their gazes and flushed. “Come on, Mom, Dad. I’m not totally helpless.”

“Of course not, dear,” Elizabeth quickly reassured him but he wasn’t convinced. She called over her shoulder. “How’s that plan coming, Herbert?”

“Oh, I’ve just about worked it out,” Herbert drew in the dirt with his index finger and mumbled to himself.

Elizabeth was about to ask him what he meant when a tall, stout badger kicked open the door and growled irritably. “It’s time. The interrogators demand you be brought before them for questioning.”

“Wait! Don’t we get a…lawyer or something?” Andrew asked.

The badger grabbed his arm and pushed the young man ahead of them. “For a human? Please. Get moving!”

“Really, is the rudeness necessary?” Herbert complained as they followed the guard down the hall.

                                                                                                                                     ****

The family was led to a large amphitheatre. Clearly, they were going to be interrogated in front of a large audience. Before them on a dais was a long stone table. Seated at the table were three huge badgers dressed as judges from 1800s England. Above the judges’ heads on the wall behind them was a huge life carved snake. The same snake appeared on the badges worn by the judges, but their badges had a blue background. The three barely glanced at the humans and did not react to their entrance.

The same could not be said of the crowd. Small badgers shied away from them, human were probably this culture’s version of the bogeyman. The assembled badgers jeered and threw mushrooms at them. Elizabeth ducked but both men were beaned by rather large fungi. Their escort was joined by three other similarly stout badgers who snickered as the human males brushed mushroom bits out of their hair.

“Kangaroo court,” Herbert muttered angrily.

“Show trial,” Elizabeth explained before Andrew could ask. The young man kept his eyes on the judges and tried not to look scared.

The judge in the middle banged a large rock on the table and bellowed, “SILENCE!”

The room quieted and the badger on the left unrolled a scroll and began to read, “The human intruders, who have identified themselves as Herbert, Andrew, and Elizabeth are accused of being trespassers, advanced scouts for an invading army, and human. How do the disgusting vermin plead?”

“Guilty! Guilty!” the crowd began to chant.

“Oh, pipe down!” Elizabeth shouted back and a guard shoved her. She nearly thrust them back but was stopped by Herbert.

“Err…not guilty,” she murmured.

The judge on the right scoffed. “Humph. Not guilty, the female says. Human, our history clearly shows there is no such thing as an innocent human. You polluted the earth. You caused the seas to rise. It is all the fault of humans we now live in a frozen waste!” The judge’s voice began to rise and they calmed themselves. “We cannot put all of humanity on trial, merely those who wantonly invade our lands and disturb our peace.”

The crowd shouted their agreement and the judge in the middle banged their rock again. “Silence! The guilt of these three is irrefutable but we of the high court are not without mercy.” Their gaze swept accusingly over the family. Mercy was not was they projected. “Confess your crimes and tell us of your plans of invasion and your deaths will be relatively painless.”

Andrew snorted derisively. “Sure they will.”

Elizabeth shushed him and glanced at Herbert. She hoped his fighting trousers were up to fight a huge crown of angry badgers. She had her strength but they were outnumbered one hundred to three.

She addressed the judges. “We apologize for trespassing, it was unintentional. Our vehicle had some…issues and we were left stranded when we wandered into your trap. We mean you no harm. All we ask is to be led out of your…what do you call a badger tunnel network?” she whispered to Herbert.

“Sets,” he replied, unusually subdued. He tried to keep Andrew behind him and out of the judges’ line of sight.

“You…sets and be on our way in peace. Please, we just want to go home,” Elizabeth tried to invoke sympathy in her audience to no avail.

The assembled laughed at her. She sighed and turned to her family. “Well, so much for telling the truth.”

“It was a good try, Mom,” Andrew tried to be supportive and soothing.

“Well, now I suppose we try a bit of misdirection,” Herbert whispered. “I have some flash powder bombs. Everyone grab hold of me. Once I deploy them we’ll have precious little time to get out of here and make our way to an exit tunnel so…”

“Since these beasts are too stupid to be reasoned with, maybe we should try…fear!” One of the guards with a large wide stripe across their face grabbed Andrew and held him away from Elizabeth’s reach. “I’m sure if we torture the little one, the other two will be more…forthcoming.”

They sneered at Andrew’s scared face and then at his distraught parents. They had quickly figured out Andrew was the weak link and his family would do anything to protect him. They thought they could force the humans to submit by threatening the youngest.
What they had neglected to notice was Andrew was also his parents’ berserk button.

Elizabeth surged forward and grabbed her son from the badger guard. Herbert tried to help her but was swarmed by the remaining guards. The judges shouted for order and were ignored. Spectators poured into the stage and tried to help subdue the captives. Someone bumped someone and knocked them down, causing the injured badger to bleed. Elizabeth could smell it, it smelled divine.

Andrew was ducking under swiping claws and grabbing hands. Fencing with Herbert had improved his reflexes. He wasn’t sure if it was enough to save him when he heard an angry roar.

“Keep your filthy paws off my son, you damned dirty mustelids!”

With a snarl of fury, Herbert peeled off his attackers and made his way to his son. He wheeled around and fired off several darts from his blow gun. No fewer than five badgers hit the ground unconscious. He slapped a small black box into Andrew’s hand. “Here you are, my boy!”

Andrew looked at the device. “What’s this?”

Herbert reloaded his blow gun and cheerfully replied, “It’s my very own design. A bit like a stun gun but it fires electricity as projectiles.

The young man tested it by firing it at a badger roughly his size. Their body became engulfed in sparks before falling. “Cool! I mean…brilliant, Dad!”

“I know!” Herbert began firing into the crowd. “Mind you stay out of your mother’s reach, my boy. She looks a bit…perturbed.”

Elizabeth grinned at the ring of future victims surrounding her. “We came in peace and you threatened my son. That sort of behavior makes me very…hungry.” With a growl, the gentle mother fell away and only the ravenous beast remained. This new body gave her incredible strength, her anger fueled it. Now it was time to put both to good use.

She leapt at the nearest badger and tore their arm off. She then used it to bludgeon the creature to death before feasting on the meaty flesh on the thighs. The human female was a nightmare come to life for all who witnessed her attack. Those who survived told the story to future generations. The badgers around her watched in horror as she wiped the blood from her mouth and began to look for another victim. Those who could flee ran as she spotted the middle judge. They held the rock they used as a gavel; no doubt, they thought it would protect them. She tore it out of their shaking grasp and embedded it in their stomach. Someone was calling for reinforcements but no one wanted to face the violent human female who was now wearing the viscera of their kith and kin.

The room was nearly empty save for the dead and wounded and a brave, foolish few who wanted to avenge the fallen badgers.

Herbert decided this was a perfect time to tutor Andrew in melee fighting. "Look at what I can do with a well-timed kick, Andrew! Now you give it a try!"

Andrew kicked a badger just below the knee. The kick was off-center and the badger hopped on one leg, howling.

The scientist applauded. “Good start! Now, punch them in the throat. After all, if they can’t breathe, they can’t attack!”

The young man nodded and took out two more badgers before the other decided the young one was not as weak as he appeared and ran off. Andrew took one look at his blood-soaked mother and promptly fainted.

                                                                                                                                                            ****

Andrew woke with a jerk and found his mother chewing on the edge of his wolf pelt. She had changed into some clean clothing she had found in a badger set and took the time to clean up. Herbert stood over him, grinning and wearing a large prospector’s pack full of equipment he had liberated from their captors.

"MOM!"

"Sorry, dear. I have the munchies, and all of Meatwall Jr is on the surface. Badger meat just isn't the same, you know?" Elizabeth sighed. "I don't mean to be speciesist, I love moles, I really do. But there's nothing like human flesh."

"MOM!"

"Your mother is right,” Herbert agreed. “Humans have distinct DNA and mitochondrial sequences from other species and her taste buds are highly tuned -”

"DAD!"

The scientist smiled and helped the lad to his feet. Really, embarrassing one’s son was just as fun as Victor said it was. “I think we should be going. The badgers seem to think your mother is some sort of divine punishment so they’re keeping their distance for now. Let’s not wait until they come to their senses.”

Elizabeth nodded in agreement. “We have enough badger meat to tide me over until we can get to the next safe house.” She sighed at the ceiling. “I guess finding an exit tunnel to the surface is out for now. Your father and I didn’t find any climbing equipment.”

“So…?” Andrew asked.

“So we’ll just follow these tunnels until we can follow them any longer and look for connecting caves or some such. Don’t worry, my boy, HartLife can’t be the only underground human settlement.” Herbert’s optimism returned once his anger faded. He pointed to the tunnel ahead. “Allons-y!”

The little family departed down a barely used maintenance tunnel. Once they were gone, there was a faint stirring from the carved snake on the wall. Had anyone been able to pay attention they would have noticed the carving wasn’t a carving at all but a huge boa constrictor that had been in a state of torpor for generations. Now that had awoken she slithered to the ground towards the deceased and wounded.


Well, that was a dark end, wasn’t it? At least we don’t have to worry about the badgers following our heroes. Now they’re headed down a tunnel to nowhere towards an unknown future. Don’t worry dear readers! They will survive, at least until May. How? See for yourself in the next chapter of…The Science Family Adventures.

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                         The Science Family Adventures

 

 


Chapter Seven: Determination

 

Trigger warning: This chapter contains mentions of blood and hormonal behavior.

 

 

I do not lose.

Doctor Emily Caligari’s eyes snapped open and she stared up at the darkened ceiling. The thought had woken her from a sound sleep and refused to leave her mind. She tried closing her eyes and slowing her breathing but the four simple words persisted.

I do not lose.

Ever.

It had been weeks since West and his little family had disappeared. Loamy had been broadcasting on every available frequency to ever safe house Caligari had every day for as long as her little mole voice would let her. Davenport had helped where he could, keep Chamberlain’s attention divided between his official duties. Even Moro had gotten over what ever had crawled up his tube and was talking to her again.

I should have heard something from them by now.

Maybe they were dead and she had vaporized them or turned them inside out. Perhaps Elizabeth had succumbed to her hunger and eaten them. West could have blown them up, Andrew - well - Snidge could have frozen to death. There were too many variables, too many things that could have gone wrong.

Andrew! Andrew was the answer!

If the Moro Museum had not been flooded and she was not constantly under watch, she could have made her way down to Q deck and gotten her tracker. If the boy’s tracking device was still active, she could pin down his location within a five-mile radius. That would significantly narrow down her search field.

The moles were probably working on restoring what they could of the house of their creator but Caligari was sure all the equipment she had was ruined. Well, she’d have to build a new tracker and tune it to the right frequency.

Good idea, but not enough. There was always a chance she would not be able to find the same frequency or Chamberlain would discover what she was up to. She detested him, but had to begrudgingly admit he was good at his job. However, she made it her mission to always be three steps ahead of him.

There had to be a way to create a way to track Andrew and his “parents”, a way that could not be immediately traced to her or even Loamy. Something that could act independently without her constant supervision. An automated system of some kind.

Automation…

Robots? No, drones.

She remembered reading about small flying robots that were invented hundreds of years before The Day of Exclusion. Some were equipped with weapons, others with cameras. Many looked like small aircraft but she remembered Doctor Machina lecturing about companies who made drones as small as ancient insects and others were modeled after flying creatures called birds.

Caligari breathed out. That was a good idea; even if her drones were spotted, they would be mistaken for natural if strange animals. She could upload facial recognition software into the devices and they could record West and company’s location and report back to her. There had been a book about ancient technology in Doctor Moro’s museum. If it hadn’t been destroyed in the flood, maybe Loamy could recover it and return it to her somehow…

Caligari turned over and pretended to be struggling to go back to sleep. She slipped her hand under her pillow and pulled out a small communication device. If she was careful, she could get a Morse code message to Loamy. Moro’s transmitter was more powerful; all she had to do was convince him to help her.

She rolled out of bed and stomped her way towards the bathroom.

“Can’t sleep, Caligari?”

She didn’t pause when she heard her ever-diligent bodyguard’s voice but she did slow down. “Obviously.” She could feel his eyes on her and pretended to be indifferent.

“You’re of no use to the Company if you’re too exhausted to be effective,” he told her. “Why don’t you take a sleeping aid?”

Why did he care if she could sleep at night? Chamberlain must be getting bored with this assignment. So bored he was amusing himself by needling her. Caligari wasn’t sure what made her ask but she said, “That chair can’t be very comfortable. Why don’t you sleep at the foot of my bed?”

She couldn’t see him but she imagined Chamberlain freezing as he heard her question. “What?” he replied.

She rolled her eyes and glanced in his direction over her shoulder. “I meant,” She enunciated carefully, “you should have someone send up a cot and put it at the foot of my bed. It would be better for your neck and back at least.”

He didn’t answer her and Caligari wondered if he thought she was making fun of him. She sighed. “You’re right,” she told him. “I’m clearly sleep-deprived if I’m showing concern for you.” Caligari turned away and continued to the bathroom, firmly closing the door behind her.

 

                                                                                                                                                   *****


Caligari flushed the toilet and turned on the sink just in case Chamberlain’s keen hearing picked up the sounds of her transmitting to Doctor Moro.

Moro? This is Caligari. Don’t answer me, but I need your Morse code function to get a message to Loamy. I can’t risk the Tower intercepting a communication.

There was no answer and she didn’t expect one. There is a book I need to get from your museum. It’s a book about devices called drones. I want to build some drones to find West, Snidge and Elizabeth. There’s a chance they’re still alive. She really hoped she wasn’t making a mistake by admitting the truth to Moro. He could slip and give them all away to Chamberlain.

We can’t risk sending anyone to look for them or contacting them directly. If I can find them then maybe I can direct them to one of my safe houses. It’s too dangerous for them to risk coming back to Hart Life.

Caligari paused to rest her fingers. In the morning, I’m going to pretend to be annoyed with you and turn off your translator function. Then you contact Loamy and tell her what I need. Tell her to be careful. She needs to find a way into the Tower without being caught. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you with this information earlier but with Chamberlain following me everywhere like an unwanted pet I had to be careful.

She slipped her communication device back into her pocket and relaxed. She had done all she could for now, it was up to Moro and Loamy. The name of the book is Recent Advances in Drone Technology. Good night.

Caligari shut off the water and made her way back to bed. As she closed her eyes, she heard Chamberlain’s voice one more time.

“You could try herbal tea, Doctor.”

“Shut up and go to sleep.”

 

                                                                                                                                                ****

 

Caligari woke up thirty minutes later than she intended. She pretended to be grouchy and sleep-deprived, not hard really. She felt stressed about the possibility of Chamberlain discovering what she was actually doing and murder her. In addition, she had her “friends‘ ” safety to consider and the pressure of once again being her City’s only hope for recovery. A lesser person would have had a nervous breakdown; Emily Caligari had no time to be so self-indulgent.

I have to stay three steps ahead of Chamberlain and the Company.

Usually this wouldn’t be a problem but with worry and the stress of her workload, she was starting to feel overwhelmed. Her official projects were going well, that kept Upper Management off her back and she doubted they read her reports.

Caligari threw off the bedcovers, grabbed some clean clothing, and hurried to the bathroom to dress. Davenport was waiting for her with fresh coffee and Chamberlain was in his usual metal chair, making notes into his micro recorder.

The scientist pulled an algae bar out of a draw in her desk and began to eat. Davenport approached her cautiously.

She ignored him until her meal was done. Taking a large swig of coffee, she finally acknowledged his existence. “What?” she demanded.

The former vice president cleared his throat and began going over her schedule. “Uh, the engineers’ meeting has been moved up to ten. They say they’ve made progress on the new prototypes you designed and think they can finish ahead of schedule. Your lunch with the senior assistant to the Directors has moved to next Tuesday.”

“Good.” Caligari rummaged through her desk. She stopped and looked up at her assistant. “When is that new supply of drafting paper arriving?”

Davenport checked his notes. “End of the day, or so the delivery guy said.”

“Fine.” Caligari went back to rummaging. Davenport glanced at Moro, who said nothing.

Davenport continued. “The refitting of the power plant to automation should be done around…three. The foreman has requested you be there around two…” he stopped and stared at the woman he’d worked beside for nearly a month. “Doctor Caligari?”

“What?”

He hesitated and looked at Chamberlain out of the corner of his eye. As usual, the agent had no reaction except for the occasional notation. “Are you…okay? Something I can get you?”

Caligari slammed her desk drawers closed and glared at everyone. “I doubt you can help me, Edward.”

<Now, Doctor Caligari, there’s no need to be rude. Mister Davenport is only trying to help. He is not to blame for your lack of sleep. If you have lost something, I’m sure you could fill out a requisition form->

“Oh, who asked you!” Caligari stood, crossed the room to Doctor Moro, and slapped her hand over his translator function. Whatever else he had planned to say now came out as a series of beeps. If all went well, he was now transmitting her message to Loamy.

She glanced at Chamberlain. “Did you act on my suggestion or are you going to continue to be a stubborn ass?”

Chamberlain clicked off his micro recorder. That was her answer. If he wasn’t sleeping comfortably then maybe he’d get sloppy. She could hope.


                                                                                                                                           *****

 

Loamy waited until the people work cycle was over then made her way through mole service tunnels to the base of the Tower. From there she found an access grate that led to the building’s air ducts. Doctor Moro told her where they were keeping Doctor Caligari. Moro also told Loamy Agent Chamberlain was guarding Doctor Caligari so the femole had to be extra careful. Dangerous chap, that one.

It had taken the femole two hours to find the book she was sent to find. She kept it tucked into a knapsack slung over her shoulder. She could smell gunpowder, which was the assassin man. Loamy caught a whiff of machinery, which could only be Doctor Moro. Somewhere there was running water! She strained to hear. It sounded like a shower. That Chamberlain bloke wouldn’t be allowed to use the scientist’s shower, so the only person who could be using the rain closet would be Caligari herself!

I won’t look, I promise. Not even a teensy little peek. I will not imagine Doctor Caligari n-naked.

The vent cover above the shower stall was bolted but no match for even a one armed mole. She plucked it off and reached into her knapsack for her precious cargo. She pulled out the book, closed her eyes and let the book fall. Feeling accomplished she replaced the vent cover and quickly made her way back to her tunnel. She couldn’t help feeling a rush of pride for aiding her dear…friend, even in such a small way.

Viva la revolution!

 

                                                                                                                                                     ****

 

After a hard day of dealing with people who made West seem reasonable, all Emily Caligari wanted was a nice quiet shower, away from overly solicitous Davenport and irritating, intrusive Chamberlain. The water was warm, plentiful, and relaxing.

The good mood vanished as a book made contact with her skull.

“Son of a-?” Caligari shouted then groaned aloud, both at the dull ache in her head and the sound of running footsteps.

She heard her guard banging on the door and shouted out. “I’m fine, I just slipped! Don’t come in, I’m not dressed!”

Caligari heard nothing and then a metallic click as Chamberlain unloaded and then reloaded his gun. “Take your time, then. However, not too much. Do you need a doctor?”

He sounded more irritated than worried. Watching her had to be boring for him, and frustrating. He couldn’t go anywhere with her in the shower and Caligari was doing her best to be as uninteresting as possible.

“I am a doctor,” she growled and rubbed her head. She heard his footsteps retreat and rubbed her sore head.
The book had fallen out of the shower and onto the floor. She turned off the water and stepped out of the tub.

The good news was it was the book she needed to create drones. The bad news was it was soaked and possibly ruined. She looked under the sink and located a box of feminine hygiene products. Bright pink letters declared the product inside was “Extra absorbent”. Perfect.

Caligari placed as many of the permeable pads as she could between the pages and placed the book underneath the sink. If she let the book dry overnight that would absorb some of the moisture but she needed to order more feminine supplies to be sure. She began singing “I Kissed a Mole and I Liked It” to cover the excess noise. Hopefully it would also throw off her second shadow and aggravate him.

She passed Chamberlain as she went to grab some clean clothes. He carefully averted his eyes from her towel-clad form. “Your singing is off-key,” he told her sotto voce as she crossed the room.

“Oh, go to Hell.”

 

                                                                                                                                                 *****

 

Davenport re-read the requisition form Caligari handed him. “Um…pardon me for asking but,” he laughed nervously. “Are you sure you need ten boxes of…feminine hygiene products?”

Chamberlain predictably sat in the corner and cleaned his gun. For once, he was not recording this conversation and in fact was acting as if he couldn’t hear what she was discussing. She found it amusing the agent had no problem with blood involuntarily leaving the body but a simple biological cycle disgusted him. She had always hated male clichés but found his discomfort very entertaining after dealing with him all the time.

Her assistant, on the other hand, was not so easily dissuaded. “That’s a bit much for a month, don’t you think? My daughter Erin never used so much, especially not the extra absorbent kind.”

Damn, she had forgotten Davenport had a daughter. Of course, he wouldn’t be grossed out, he’d be used to it. Her cheeks reddened as she thought of how close she could be to being caught. “Okay, fine, it might be a three-month supply but I like to be prepared for emergencies.” Caligari looked Davenport in the eyes and willed him to drop the subject. She was glad she hadn’t turned Doctor Moro’s translator function back on, she didn’t want his input.

Davenport looked concerned. “Now, this isn’t my business, but…have you considered seeing a gynecologist? That kind of heavy flow doesn’t sound natural and could indicate a more serious health problem.”

Chamberlain sniffed the air. “You don’t…smell like you’re bleeding.”

Caligari stood up from her desk and stalked past a startled Davenport to where Chamberlain sat. She glared down at him, no longer having to fake her anger. These two were about to ruin everything by being too perceptive.

“I’m not menstruating at the moment, you disgusting little bloodhound,” the doctor’s voice was dangerously soft. “Have you ever heard of pre-menstrual syndrome? Do you know anything about the effect this cycle has on my mood and hormones, or have you always wondered what it would be like if I strangled you with your own intestines?”

Chamberlain slightly shook his head and she continued. “Now, unless you’d like me to wire your jaw shut without anesthetic, I think it would be in your best interest, Agent Chamberlain, if you would shut the absolute hell up!”

Chamberlain scanned Caligari's angry face and considered his options. For once, it seemed ill advised to needle the scientist further and so the special agent wisely “shut the hell up."

“As for you, Davenport,” Caligari walked back to her assistant. “This isn’t a request and I do not appreciate you questioning me. Order these supplies and keep your medical advice to yourself!”
The former VP looked down into his boss’ face. Whether the red on her cheeks was from anger or embarrassment he couldn’t tell but there was a hint of pleading in her eyes. It dawned on him what she was trying to say; this had something to do with her greater plan.

He nodded his understanding and grabbed the form. She ignored him and sat back down, pulling out some new drafting paper and tools. Davenport made his way to the door and opened it. Before leaving he called over his shoulder for Chamberlain’s and the camera’s benefit. “Still, consider making an appointment. For your own piece of mind, okay?”

Caligari’s response was to hide her head in her hands and not look up until he had closed the door behind him.

The silence was broken as Chamberlain sipped on a juice box.

 

Whew! That was pretty close, wasn’t it readers? But the day was saved by Doctor Caligari’s quick thinking and exploiting male clichés. We always keep it classy at…The Science Family Adventures.

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                              The Science Family Adventures

 

Interlude Two-Chamberlain: Rivalry

 

“Morning, Doctor Caligari. I brought you the mail.” Edward closed the office door behind him and gingerly balanced a carafe of hot coffee in one hand and a bundle of letters in the other.

Doctor Caligari nodded; it was as close as she came to saying “thank you.” Chamberlain perched on his usual metal chair and ignored the standard morning ritual until he smelled a nearly forgotten but familiar scent: gunpowder, chocolate and hazelnuts.

Chamberlain leapt to his feet. “Davenport! Drop it!”

Davenport dropped everything he was holding without thinking. Paper and coffee spilled all over the floor and the now empty carafe clanged to the ground. Caligari rolled away from her desk, looking disgusted and disappointed at the waste of caffeine.

Chamberlain ignored them both and strode over to the mail pile. He shuffled through it until he found a letter addressed to “Doctor Emily Caligari, M.D., Ph.D.” The handwriting was full of stylized flourishes created with a calligraphy pen.

The professional assassin’s mouth tightened as he recognized the penmanship. “Riley,” he muttered under his breath.

 

                                                                                                               *****

 

Twenty minutes later with fresh coffee, the letters sorted into a mail organizer and Davenport and Caligari briefed on the dangers of unsolicited mail.

The personal assistant looked confused. “I’m sorry, bio-what?”

“Biometrics,” Chamberlain enunciated carefully as if to a child. “It’s a fairly recent advance in access control. The Company instated it in an attempt to keep policies from say…stealing containment tubes.” Caligari snorted.

Chamberlain ignored her and continued. “The policy who sent you that letter pioneered using biometric information as an assassination technique.” That got Caligari’s attention and he had to stop himself from smirking at her. “The ink and paper is encoded with the target’s DNA. Anyone else can handle it safely but when the intended victim touches it…”

“They die. And no inconvenient side effects for the killer,” Davenport added. “No accidental contact with poison or a misfiring letter bomb.”

Chamberlain nodded, slit open the envelope and read the letter aloud, “‘I will succeed where you have repeatedly failed. Mara.’ Huh.” Chamberlain held the letter out to Caligari so she could read it without touching the paper and then folded it and put it in his pocket.

Caligari raised an eyebrow. “That’s impressive. A no mess, no fuss way of killing and with so many different people handling the mail they couldn‘t determine whose DNA belongs to the original sender. Fortunately for me, you’re quite the bloodhound, George.” He shrugged.

Davenport looked from scientist to agent and back again. “So, now what happens? Someone clearly was not paying attention if someone could send a poison pen letter like that. You think this…Mara infiltrated the post office? Maybe Street Safe could spare a little backup. We got to make sure you only get official mail from now on.”

Caligari shrugged as if the possibility of assassination bored her. “Regardless, we have work to do. Davenport, order lunch. Reschedule my afternoon appointments for tomorrow. I probably won’t be leaving the office today.”

Her assistant was surprised. “You’re being pretty nonchalant about someone trying to kill you.” He laughed nervously as he remembered their past. “Then again, you’re probably used to it.”

The scientist almost smiled. “More or less. Besides, I’m sure the Company has heard this entire discussion, so it’s no longer my problem.” She jerked her thumb in Chamberlain’s direction. “It’s his.”

 

                                                                                                                  *****

 

Chamberlain picked up the telephone a second before it rang. “This is Chamberlain. Speak.”

“Chamberlain? Cromwell, Senior Assistant to the-”

“I know. Speak.”

He knew the other man not only hated interruptions but also had a hugely inflated view of his own importance. Very few people in the Company were irreplaceable.

“The Directors haven’t forgotten your little stunt with the ants, Chamberlain,” the other man said, sounding annoyed.

The Directors were displeased Chamberlain cancelled their favorite reality show. He had been almost sorry to see the Switcher go. He was fun. “I thought you were calling about the letter received this afternoon, not to be redundant.”

Cromwell ignored him. That was happening a lot lately. “I’ve just had someone slip a file under your door. I’m sure you’ll find it useful to your current situation, George.”

“It’s to the Company’s benefit Caligari stays alive…Oliver. That‘s what I was told when I was given this assignment.” Chamberlain reminded the other man. “Riley should have been executed, not imprisoned. “

There was silence and then a dial tone. Cromwell always retreated when it looked like he might lose an argument . It was one of the reasons they hadn’t gotten along during their M.U.R.D.E.R. training.

Chamberlain replaced the phone into its cradle and crossed the room to retrieve the file from the door. He returned to the desk and clicked on a light. Then he began to read the file.

 

                                                                                                            *****

 

Caligari skimmed the dossier Chamberlain handed her. The scientist’s eyes lingered over two pictures. One was of an attractive blonde-haired woman with brown eyes. She smiled at the camera and was dressed in eveningwear. The other was a dark haired woman in a gunmetal grey coat and matching sunglasses. Caligari glanced over the top of the manila folder at her bodyguard. “Friend of yours?”

“Colleague, in a manner of speaking.” Chamberlain prowled around the room as he spoke. “Her name is Mara Riley, former special investigator of M.U.R.D.E.R. She was sent to the Cube ten years ago for…recreational murder.”
“You mean she killed someone the Company didn’t want dead, at least not at the time.” Caligari did not look at him as she spoke.

“Correct. The victim was a promising junior executive in our department. Our immediate supervisor, to be exact.” Chamberlain felt restless. He wanted to be out hunting Riley, not providing Caligari’s exposition.

The scientist began to read aloud. “Hmm…she had a degree in biochemistry. That explains why she knew about biometrics. I’m surprised she decided to become an agent and not a scientist.”

Chamberlain raised one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug and continued. “Riley was satisfactory during training. No discipline problems to speak of. She tested well and placed second overall in our graduating class.”

“Second behind you, naturally,” Caligari stated. She glanced at the second photo one more time. “That explains why she turned herself into your double. It doesn’t explain why she’s coming after me, unless…” she smirked up at him. “Riley’s trying to impress you.”

Chamberlain knew he was being baited and refused to respond. “Riley saw herself as my rival. Even back then you were on the department’s radar as a possible subversive-”

“I’m flattered.”

“But you have a talent for evasion,” Chamberlain continued as if she had not spoken.

Caligari nodded. “Right. And she thinks if she can manage to kill me she can finally be better than you.”

The agent agreed. “Due to the current situation you and I are now together in a static location. A stationary target is usually easier.” He thought for a moment. “Riley must have overheard the guards discussing us and decided now was the time to prove herself. According to the reports she escaped through the air ducts. I hope someone was fired for that level of carelessness.”

The scientist closed the file and stared at him over steepled fingers. “This was obviously a first attempt, one calculated to get your attention.”

“Agreed.”

“So, in your professional opinion, how much danger am I in?” Caligari dropped her pose and drummed her fingers on her desk. Her tone was brisk as usual but she was also treating this risk to her safety seriously. She was even treating him seriously.

Chamberlain was about to answer when she interrupted. “Davenport is off coordinating extra security with Street Safe, making sure my food and mail and hell, even my air isn’t being tampered with. He suggested I put myself under house arrest and just have the engineers meet me here. In your professional opinion, Special Investigator Chamberlain,” she gave him a strange half-smile, “what’s our next move?”

Caligari was making an effort to include him in her decision making process. That was…unexpected. It made him wonder if she was more concerned than she let on.

“I’m not worried,” she told him, reading his mind or perhaps just his face. “I know you wouldn’t let anyone kill me. That’s your job.”

“Precisely.” He brushed a bit of imaginary lint from his coat. “I have an idea, but I want to wait until Davenport returns to discuss it. It‘ll save time. I dislike repeating myself.”

 

                                                                                                        *****

 

Davenport returned shortly after lunch, full of action plans and spreadsheets and other such paraphernalia.
“Okay, Doctor Caligari, I got it figured out. We got extra security on this floor. No one gets in or out without a biometric scan. Might as well use Riley’s expertise against her, right? So two armed guards with travel with you at all times. Another guard will scout ahead, check for bombs and a fourth will act as backup-”

“Good thinking, Davenport. Sounds like a good plan, full of sensible precautions.” Caligari complimented him.

The former vice president blinked in surprise. “Thanks. I enjoy coordinating things like this. Reminds me of the good old days.”

“Unfortunately our maverick has his own plans,” Caligari pointed at Chamberlain.

“Wait, what?”

Chamberlain reached into an inner pocket and pulled out a small derringer. “Here. You’re in charge while I’m gone. I’ll want this back so take care of it. “

Davenport was startled but took the weapon, checking to make sure the safety was on before putting it in his jacket. “Wait, where are you going?”

“I need to do a bit of…reconnaissance. Just make sure you put all those extra security measures in place while I’m gone. ” Chamberlain glanced at Caligari, who just nodded her understanding. She was being too accommodating. He would find out why after he neutralized Riley.

“Additional Street Safe agents are on their way,” Davenport confirmed.

The scientist looked the agent over and almost smiled. “You know where to find her, don’t you?”

“Yes,” The agent grabbed his hat from a nearby coat track and headed towards the door. He opened it and then said over his shoulder, “Time to do some preventative guarding.”

Davenport looked at Caligari, who shrugged. “Who cares, he seems happy.” She went back to writing notes. “Maybe we can get some real work done while he’s gone.”

 

                                                                                                             *****

 

The ruins of Old Hartford were the perfect place for training or just team building exercises. The derelict buildings were full of hiding places and nasty little surprises, such as cave-ins for the unwary. Every now and then, some amateur archaeologist would find a relic or a lost tribe but most policies didn’t know the place existed.

Chamberlain felt a frisson of excitement. It had been weeks since he’d shot anyone. (That algae bar delivery person didn’t count, she was clearly a subversive and it hadn’t been a challenge.) Caligari seemed to go out of her way to be as boring as possible. He craved a hunt against an intelligent, elusive prey, craved it badly.

At the same time, there was an undercurrent of irritation. He never thought of Riley as competition or anyone else. He had a job he enjoyed and performed his duties. His skills like his night vision were innate.

Riley, on the other hand, had taken his success in the field as a challenge. She was not without ability but comparing herself to him was a waste of time and had driven her to waste Company resources. Now she was free and instead of using that liberty to escape the city or make a new life for herself she had decided to get revenge on him for some imagined slight. Unfortunately for her she had targeted Caligari. He felt his inner predator rise. The scientist was his prey and he would defend his territory.

His anger abated and a strange feeling of happiness took its place. This hunt was like an early Exclusion Day gift.

Chamberlain smelled her before he heard or saw her. “Good afternoon, Riley.”

“George. Oh, sorry. You always preferred being called Chamberlain, didn’t you? Good afternoon, Chamberlain. It’s been a long time. How have you been? I’ve been really busy being tortured on a daily basis and having my sanity slowly sloughed away. You know…after you caught me and sent me to the Cube?”

“You’d gotten sloppy, Riley.” Chamberlain knew the woman hadn’t forgotten his preferred form of address. She had near perfect recall. This was a transparent attempt to anger him and wouldn’t work. She was trying to put him off-balance. “You know how the department feels about unauthorized eliminations.”

The woman laughed but there was a tinge of desperation to it. “They were trying to hold be back because I was a threat! Really, what did they expect? The hired a bunch of sociopaths willing to kill for a paycheck. Did they expect us to play nice? I’m surprised more intra-departmental murders don’t happen.”

“Irrelevant.” Chamberlain tried to keep her talking so he could get a fix on her location. Her voice echoed around him, making it difficult. “There are rules, procedures. We follow them and get our job done.”

“Right. George Chamberlain, special investigator and fifth rate science project. How lucky for you, to be engineered from birth to do your job. Not everyone’s so fortunate.”

He found the bitterness in her voice amusing. “You have other skills. If you weren’t happy as an agent, you could have gone into the science division. You have some talent, as your obvious little trap demonstrated.”

“Oh, joy. Therefore, instead of being told I was inferior to you, I could have been told I was inferior to your precious Caligari. All I did was threaten her a teensy bit and here you come running. So, George, how close are you to killing her? How many times has she eluded you? Really, I’m not surprised everyone in the Tower is laughing behind your back. Doesn’t it bother you to have a failure, no, repeated failures on your precious record, George? How’s the babysitting going?”

Chamberlain quietly slipped his gun out of its holster and into his pocket. “Why don’t you come out here and we can discuss it over an algae bar or two?”

“You brought algae bars?” Her voice faltered. He heard a sniffing sound and then, “I don’t smell any algae bars. Nice try, George.”

He rolled his eyes. “Algae bars are hermetically sealed. Besides, your sense of smell isn’t nearly as acute as mine.”

Chamberlain heard the gun cock before she fired and neatly stepped aside. The bullet twanged and burrowed itself into a nearby wall. Three more shots careened towards him and he neatly sidestepped them. Riley was out of practice.

“You think you’re so great? You and your favorite scientist, born special. I guess it’s never occurred to you not everyone is so gifted. Most of us have to work at it and then people like you come along and demean our every little accomplishment. You’re disgusting. You and Caligari deserve each other. Enough pleasantries, George. Come and get me!”

He heard her footsteps as she ran away and took a long sniff. She wasn’t afraid, not yet. She smelled angry and angry people made mistakes. The Caligari situation was under control so he could take his time.

Chamberlain started after his quarry. He hoped she would prove to be a challenge.

 

                                                                                                                *****

 

The agent had deactivated three of Riley’s traps so far. He had spotted a fourth when the Mold attacked. He froze the carnivorous fungus with a cryogun he had “borrowed” from Caligari. It was a prototype but much more portable than her freeze ray. He didn’t think she’d really mind. It was his job to protect her and he would return later if she remembered to ask him.

He heard a soft giggle above him. “Clever boy, borrowing Caligari’s inventions. A bit unfair. So, are you two friends now? Have you succumbed to Lima Syndrome after only a month? You’re going soft on me, George, after all this time. I didn’t know Caligari was your type. Hell, I didn’t know you had a type.” She laughed bitterly. “If I’d known you liked the intelligent, elusive type I wouldn’t have tried so hard to get your attention. I just would have shot you and yelled, ‘Tag, you’re it!’ “

Chamberlain didn’t answer and she continued reminiscing. “You really were something back then, Agent Chamberlain. Patient and predatory, not to mention stoic. You had quite a few admirers, me included. Did you ever notice?”

“I noticed you changed your appearance to look like me,” he commented. There was a catwalk above him. It creaked as she walked, the metal groaning with each step. It must be unstable; he could use that to his advantage.

“At first, I wanted you to notice me. Then I decided I wanted to replace you.” Riley giggled to herself, the sound high and sharp. “You never even looked at me. All I wanted when we first met was for you to call me by name. It’s Mara, remember? Call me Mara, at least once. Do that and I promise I’ll leave the city and leave your precious Emily Caligari alone.”

“It’s far too late for that, Riley,” he never understood why people like her and Erin Davenport insisted on being on a first name basis with him.

“The Company wants you dealt with. If you were as skilled as you claim, you would have left the City when you first escaped. Your insistence on this confrontation makes me think you’re not nearly as confident in your abilities as you claim.”

Chamberlain expected her to scoff or get angry. Instead, she laughed and said. “Maybe. Then again, maybe you should be more careful where you step, Georgie Porgy.”

The ground beneath his left foot gave way and he heard a soft click. Damn, a landmine. That was impressive planning on her part. He dove to the side and rolled away from the bomb. It exploded half-heartedly and he narrowly avoided being pelted with shrapnel. Chamberlain felt a modicum of respect for his opponent. Landmines hadn’t been produced for centuries and it was amazing the bomb had exploded at all.

The agent ducked behind a wall. The smoke stung his eyes and he smothered a cough. He was sure she thought he was dead, he decided to let her keep thinking that. Chamberlain skirted around a pile of bricks and scanned the ceiling for his quarry.

“Farewell, Chamberlain!” she called out. “You were a worthy opponent! Maybe I’ll see if Caligari is hiring now that she has a body vacancy. Or perhaps I’ll just kill her and bury her down here next to your gibs.”

The agent muffled his footsteps as best he could. The ground was uneven and he could hear the metal catwalk above him creak and sway as Riley laughed and cried above him.

“Founders, if I’d known you could die so easily I would have killed you years ago. You’ve lost, George. It’s over.” She laughed to herself. “It’s over. Huh. I‘m going to miss you but I‘m sure I‘ll get over it.”

Chamberlain tuned out her victorious ranting. It had been years since he’d been down here but he was sure there was a ladder leading to the catwalk. His gun was a comforting weight in his pocket as he remembering being told not to use the catwalk because it had a weak spot. He would have preferred a shoot-out with Riley, she had been a crack shot at one point, but he was growing bored. His erstwhile colleague and would be rival was now little more than a raving child, a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Time to end this.

He easily located the weak support in the catwalk. He quietly unloading the gun and reloaded it with explosive bullets. Riley was sobbing too loud and didn’t hear him. He cocked his gun and fired.

The bullet hit home and the catwalk collapsed, taking Riley with it. He stepped back a few yards and watched dispassionately as the old and weak metal crashed to the ground, slamming the former agent’s body against a brick wall on the way down. A cloud of dust rose and then settled around the wreckage. The only sound was Riley’s pained coughing.

Chamberlain strode over to her broken body. He felt immense satisfaction as he looked down at Riley as she struggled to sit up.

She looked up at him. Her eyes pleaded, but not for her life. "Tell me I was good," she begged.
"Tell me I was worthy of being your rival. Please, George?" He returned her gaze calmly. Had he been capable of pity he might have felt it then but all he could manage was disgust. "Not even close," he told her.

His gun pressed gently against her forehead, almost like a goodbye kiss. He pulled the trigger and she slumped backwards. Special Agent Chamberlain holstered his gun, gave the corpse a sarcastic salute, and sauntered away.

There was only room in this City for one predator.

 

 

 

There we leave you for this week, dear readers. Special Investigator George Chamberlain, still the winner and champion, the best there is at what he does. As smart as she was, Mara Riley should have known not to come between a panther and his scientist prey. Let’s hope next week’s story will be a little lighter here…with The Science Family Adventures.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                               The Science Family Adventures

 


Chapter Eight: The Wild Women of Wimauma, Part 1

 

“Hmmm. Interesting. For all their hostility towards humans, the badgers have certainly gone through a lot of trouble to preserve our literature.”

The Snidge-West family found themselves in what appeared to be the remains of a library. Some mustelids curator had taken great pains to maintain the centuries-old wooden shelves and the books arranged by the ancient Dewey Decimal system.

Andrew stood in the middle of the room, mouth agape. “So. Many. Books.” He had seen old books at Doctor Moro’s but this room contained more books than he had seen in his entire life. They must contain incredible amounts of forbidden knowledge and he wished he could fit them all in his adventure pack. The underground location kept the books at a consistent temperature and slowed the collection’s deteriorization. Huh. That knowledge must have come from Benedict.

Herbert’s attention flitted from bookshelf to bookshelf as he leafed through various tomes. “Oh, Christmas! Look at this, Elizabeth! Grey’s Anatomy, Homer’s Iliad, the Federalist Papers…oh, my!” He grabbed a thinner but wider book. “Roger Smith’s Guide to Robotics! Have not seen this in ages. Mister Smith wrote this after discovering a giant robot, The Big…oh, what was its name?” The scientist thought for a moment and then shrugged. “Oh, it’s probably not important. Still…this book could come in handy.” Herbert placed the book in his back and continued exploring. “It’s a shame we can’t take this whole library with us, but I’m sure we can mark its location and-”

“If we have time later, we could come back,” Elizabeth interrupted. Her attention was riveted on a deceptively plain looking book titled The Anarchist’s Cookbook. “This looks useful. Anyway, for now we’ll only take one book.”

Doctor West gave his lover sad mismatched puppy eyes. “One…each?”

Elizabeth glared at him over her book. “We do not know how long it will take us to get out of these tunnels or what else we’ll encounter here. We have to travel light in case we have to fight our way out. Again.”

Herbert sighed but didn’t argue. There was no arguing with her when she gave him That Look. “I’m sure you’re right, my dear. Andrew, have you found something you like?”

“This one,” the young man held up a book for Herbert’s inspection. Something about it just…called to him.

“Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. A truly ancient book of strategy. Very useful to us in the days to come. Excellent choice!” Herbert tucked away the book about robotics and turned back to Elizabeth. “And you, my love?”

“There are a lot of recipes in here for explosives. That could prove handy if we need to break Emily out of the Tower.” Elizabeth added her selection to Herbert’s prospector pack.

Herbert took one more longing look at the collection of books, sighed and joined his family as they made their way out of the room and down a maintenance tunnel. The badgers were distracted for now but wouldn’t be forever. Time to escape.


                                                                                                                                                  *****

"Dad, look at that canon!"
"That's so sweet. What perfect canons."

"Ah, I believe you're both mistaken. Those are cannons. This isn't canon at all."

The small family looked at the slowly approaching assembly. The impending invasion was covered in protective plating and bristled with weaponry ranging from swords to the aforementioned cannons. The front line was made up of drummers and flautists with a few flag bearers and a sextet of banner carriers. Every other member of the battalion sang in French.

Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrive!
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L’entendard sanglant est leve,

Elizabeth was completely charmed. “An army! A snail army! Herbert, what are they singing?”

Doctor West began rummaging through his pockets. “Ah. That would be La Marseillaise. It was once the national anthem of the country known as France. They were well respected for their cuisine, which included certain species of snails. These delightful warriors must be the descendants of a genetic experiment designed to create better tasting escargot. Their ancestors must have narrowly escaped becoming an entrée. Fascinating!”

The largest of the army of snails only came up to Elizabeth’s knee so even Andrew wasn’t worried. Still, they needed to get down the tunnel and no one wanted to risk squishing a (relatively) innocent gastropod to do it.

“A-ha!” Herbert cried out in triumph as he pulled a container out of his pocket and showed it to the gathered regiment.

They gasped as one. “Sel!”

Herbert slowly and carefully knelt before them. “Pardonez-moi. Parlez vous anglais?”

The crowd of snails parted and the largest most decorated creature approached the scientist. The rest of the army fell back and lapsed into respectful silence. “Yes. I do, barbaric human. I am Commander Shelly, leader of the five hundred and second armored infantry division. We seek justice for those who have fallen to humanity’s hunger.”

The commander’s eye stalks flattened against her head. It made her look like an angry cat. “We have heard tales the Directors of the city of HartLife are direct descendants of those who hunted us. You threaten us with salt, something that could destroy us all. I am therefore obligated to discuss our terms of surrender. You may kill me, but I ask for leniency for my troops.”

Andrew covered his mouth to stifle his laughter and Elizabeth poked him. Both stared down at the gastropods with straight faces.

Herbert inclined his head respectfully. “You are brave and noble, Commander Shelly. I understand the need for vengeance but only upon those who deserve it. I will negotiate a truce with you for fifty of your generations. Then if you still seek justice, it will be yours.”

The assembled army sighed in relief and Commander Shelly looked surprised at Herbert’s mercy. Alternatively, as surprised as a snail could look without much of a face. Doctor West spent another half hour trading information with the commanding officer before the crowd parted and the Snidge-Wests were allowed to continue on their way.

Elizabeth waited until she thought she was out of earshot. “They aren’t much of a threat but still…that was good thinking on your part.”

The scientist waved a hand. “A sentient life form is a sentient life form, regardless of size. They deserved to be treated seriously. Besides, they had the most wonderful armor schematics. I’m certain I can reverse engineer and create something on a human scale.”

“How long is a snail generation?” Andrew wanted to know.

“No idea, my boy but judging by their speed of movement it would take them at least forty-eight human generations to reach the outskirts of the city, so no one is in any danger, especially not the snails. Well, off we go!”


                                                                                                                                        ****

Andrew leaned against a wall and tried not to think about how their supplies were getting low or how much his feet hurt. “Are we going in the right direction, Dad? It’s hard to tell down here.”

“Our last know direction was west northwest of HartLife, my boy,” Herbert sounded tired. His usual enthusiasm was wearing thin. He consulted his pocket compass. “We may be a few degrees off but we’re still on course. We should be near the older tunnels in…three weeks, give or take.”

It was four days since they’d left the badger city. The tunnel they’d followed had ended yesterday and now they took frequent breaks while Elizabeth dug a new tunnel. Their pace was slowed to a crawl and Andrew hoped they’d find a settlement before his mother became…hungry.

Elizabeth broke through a wall of dirt and poked her head through. “Herbert? Andrew? You’ll want to see this.

The reanimated mother made a tunnel entrance big enough for the three of them and they stepped through. Once on the other side they paused and looked around.

They had stumbled upon the mouth of a cave. The walls glowed with faint phosphorescence and were beaded with moisture. A faint dripping from a stalactite emptied into a pool of water. Andrew leapt forward before anyone could stop him and drank from it.

The young man shivered. “It’s cold, but it tastes okay.”

“Andrew!” Elizabeth chided, “you don’t know where that water has been? There could be bacteria!”

“Allow me,” Herbert took out water testing kit and dipped it into the pool. After a few minutes, he shook his head. “No, no, it’s perfectly safe. It’s been filtered through the rock for eons.” He glanced at Elizabeth’s angry face and amended, “but from now on, wait until the water has been tested before you drink it.”

Elizabeth smiled and said, “I think we should stop here for the night. Andrew looks like he’s ready to drop and I’d like a chance to wash all this dirt off me.”

“Of course, my dear. I’ll warm up the camp stove and we’ll have some rations while we wait. Andrew? Do you still have your tinderbox? I believe there’s still some propane tanks left in my pack.”

“Sure thing, Dad.”

After a meal and a bit of reading by phosphorous light, the family settled down to rest.

                                                                                                                                        ******

Andrew was awoken by a sharp high scream and the clang of a metal bucket hitting the cave floor. He looked up into the startled eyes of a little girl with dark eyes and nearly black hair. She screamed again before he could say anything and ran down a tunnel they hadn’t noticed the night before.

Elizabeth and Herbert woke with a jerk and scrambled to their feet before pulling their son upright. “There must be people nearby. A civilization!” Herbert surmised. “Do you think they might be friendly?”

“Judging by the way that child screamed at us? All signs point to ‘no’.” Elizabeth told him.

Andrew was already gathering their supplies. “Maybe we should get out of here before-”

He was interrupted by the sound of a gun being cocked and sighed. “Before she can tell anyone about us.”

Egads, dear readers! We end on a cliffhanger. Who are these strangers and what harm do they intend for our heroes? You may find out when and if we continue…The Science Family Adventures.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                                         The Science Family Adventures

 


Chapter Nine: The Wild Women of Wimauma, Part 2

 

Andrew’s hands shot up into the air to show he was unarmed. Herbert and Elizabeth copied him but he noticed they were flanking him just in case. The young man suppressed a sigh. They were the best parents ever but he was tired of being treated as if he were helpless. He wasn’t, not completely, not any more.

The tiny family was ringed by roughly fifty adults, all armed. Some held bows, others spears. A few even clutched farming implements. At least ten people had firearms of some kind. The tunnel Elizabeth had made was blocked by two very husky men with crossbows. The Snidge-Wests couldn’t even retreat.

The bioluminescence made the cave bright enough to see the faces of their captors. The women wore patchwork skirts and blouses, all with geometric patterns. They wore their hair up in tight buns and many rows of beads around their necks. The men wore pants but were clad in colorful jackets similar to the women’s skirts and the sides of their heads were shaved.

Andrew tried not to stare too hard. The people surrounding him had reddish-tan skin and high cheekbones; some were even darker, almost russet. That wasn’t too surprising; there were a wealth of ethnicities in HartLife. However, combined with the colorful clothing the effect was jarring. A few looked frightened or angry but most looked wary, waiting.

A younger woman approached them. She wore pants like the men but beads around her neck like the women. In her hands, she carried a strange double-barreled handgun. The weapon was pointed at Elizabeth.

The reanimated woman started forward but was dragged back by her family. The crowd tensed but did not move. Clearly, they were waiting for a signal from the young woman.

The younger woman’s lips parted and she spoke. She didn’t raise her voice or seem angry but when she addressed the Snidge-Wests, her words carried an unmistakable air of command.

The language she used was not one any of them understood and they shook their heads to let her know.

“Herbert?” Elizabeth whispered urgently.

“Calm yourself, my dear, no need to alarm our hosts. By their appearance, I believe we’ve come across a tribe of Native Americans. How wonderful! I had no idea any of the First Nation people this far north had survived. How marvelous!”

“Uh…Dad?” Andrew interrupted. He glanced around and hoped the mob would wait for the leader person before doing anything.

“Of course.” The woman spoke again and the family started. Her English, though slightly accented, was perfect. The woman‘s shoulders relaxed slightly but she didn‘t lower her weapon. She addressed Elizabeth and her tone was formal, almost haughty. “You are obviously of European origin so I should have expected you would speak English.”

“Well, we could have spoken Spanish-” Herbert began but was shushed by Elizabeth. The mother addressed her younger captor. “We don’t mean you or your…tribe…any harm. You see, we’re from a placed called HartLife. We just want to get home, so if you could just point us towards the nearest exit we’ll be on our way and you’ll never have to see us again.”

There was now a low muttering among the crowd. Clearly, the young woman was not the only person there who spoke English. Andrew desperately wanted to echo Elizabeth’s words but stopped himself. For some reason the leader of this crowd had chosen his mother as their family spokesperson and he didn’t want to be the person who got them killed.

Elizabeth put a hand on Andrew and Herbert’s shoulders and cleared her throat nervously. “I’m sorry. I’m sure we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. My name is Elizabeth…Snidge. The young man is my son, Andrew.” Andrew nodded obediently when he was introduced.

Elizabeth glanced at Herbert and saw the familiar gleam of possible discovery in his eyes. She fervently hope he’d have the sense to not ask any questions until she could convince her captors they harmless. Mostly, anyway.

“And this is my…this is Doctor Herbert West. Please,” she added before Herbert could open his mouth, “call him Herbert.”

The other woman nodded and then said, “Hello, Elizabeth. I am called Hialeah, of the Panther clan. I am the Chairperson of the General Council. She turned and indicated the people around her. “We are the Miccosukee tribe, formerly of Florida.”

Andrew and Elizabeth stared at her blankly. Geography was not a priority in the HartLife education system.

Herbert sighed and shook his head sadly. “Florida was once the southernmost territory in what used to be the continental United States, famous for its swamps and wetlands, home to a fascinating assortment of wildlife. Sadly, all of it went extinct due to the effects of climate change.”

“The man speaks out of turn!” someone in the crowd called out.

Hialeah did not turn her eyes away from her prisoners but her silent stillness worked as well as a glare. When the crowd quieted once again, she looked at Elizabeth. “Your man is correct.” She frowned and continued. “My ancestors were smart enough to see what was coming and migrated north. In a town once known as Wimauma they joined with a small group of independents and together we made our way to this place.”

The young chairperson fell silent. She didn’t seem used to public speaking or maybe she just didn’t like speaking English. Elizabeth was about to ask a question when the other woman continued, “You say you are alone? That you only want to get back to this HartLife?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth answered. She nudged Andrew and Herbert and they nodded obediently.

The mother felt the full effect of the other woman’s piercing gaze and did her best not to flinch or even blink. “You seem harmless, but in all honesty, people like you nearly obliterated mine so you will excuse me if I prefer to err on the side of caution.” She held her gun a little higher. “Turn around.”

The two men turned immediately but Elizabeth hesitated. “Are you going to kill us now?”

Hialeah’s expression didn’t change. “That is for the rest of the council to decide. Turn around.”

“When-” Elizabeth started to ask but the crowd was starting to get restless. She turned and faced the entrance of a well-traveled tunnel she hadn’t noticed last night.

“The council meets in two days. Until then, you’ll be our prisoners but you won’t be mistreated.” Hialeah tapped Elizabeth none too gently on the back of her head. “Move.”

 

                                                                                                                                      ******

 

“Fascinating!” Doctor West told Andrew and Elizabeth between bites.

Their captor was true to her word and had had a teenaged girl serve them some food. The girl wouldn’t or couldn’t speak and so they ate and talked amongst themselves. Or rather, Herbert had talked and Elizabeth had yet to discover his off-switch.

Andrew chewed thoughtfully and spoke. “Say! This…breadstuff is pretty good! What’s it called again?”

Herbert’s never-ending science tirade paused. “Oh, that’s called fry bread. If my taste buds are to be believed, it’s made from a mixture of rice flour and cornmeal. And that rice soup? It’s called sofkee. Those beans with the dark spots were once known as ‘black-eyed peas’. And this…”

The scientist sniffed the air around his entrée. “Well, this is something I haven’t had in ages!” He speared a piece with his fork and popped it into his mouth. After swallowing he said, “Tilapia. Oreochromis aureus to be precise. Do try it, Elizabeth. It’s not meat but I think you’ll find the proteins palatable. It‘s well-seasoned too, they must grow herbs down here, perhaps with the aid of some ultraviolet lamps.”

Elizabeth cautiously took a bite. After finding the fish to her liking, she quickly consumed the rest, startling the young girl the attendance. She shot the teen an apologetic smile and the girl calmed herself but moved closer to the entrance.

Elizabeth wiped her mouth daintily on the provided cloth napkin. “Not bad. They confiscated our belongings but the badger meat was running low anyway.” She frowned. “Do you think…I wonder if our hosts have a human disposal area?”

“Well, my dear, if they are advanced enough to raise vegetables and even fish underground they may be sophisticated enough to have a scientific community. Perhaps I can synthesize a suitable meat substitute, if our captors are amenable.” Herbert seemed practically giddy at the thought of meeting more fellow scientists.

“That’ll be great, if they decide not to kill us.” Andrew finished his meal and pushed the plate away. “I wonder how Doctor Caligari is. I mean…I’m sure HartLife is keeping her alive because she’s an important scientist but she’s all alone too. I wouldn’t put it past them to keep her locked away and surrounded by security.”

“And the Company’s idea of who is important can change at any time,” Elizabeth added grimly.

Everyone thought about Cassie Wilkins for a moment and grew solemn.

“Never fear!” Herbert stood up and motioned for Elizabeth and Andrew to join him. Once they were on their feet, he gathered them into a tight hug. “Emily, though outnumbered, though guarded by ruffians is, after all, a scientist. Scientists are nothing if not self-sufficient and she will survive long enough for us to return and rescue her.”

Elizabeth leaned against the man she loved. “I wish I could share your enthusiasm.”

“They fed us,” Andrew offered hopefully. “That’s more than the badgers did. Maybe that’s a good sign.”

Herbert stopped himself from mentioning the tradition of offering the condemned a last meal. “Quite, my boy.”

The young girl used the family’s distraction as an opportunity to gather up the dishes. There was a knock at the door and a large man twice as wide as the teenager strode in.

He looked at the three prisoners. His face was impassive.

“It’s time,” he told them. His voice was deep but shockingly mild. “The council has summoned you."

 


Another cliffhanger? This may become a habit. What will the council’s decision be? Would I kill off my main characters this far into the story? Find out, brave readers, when we continue…The Science Family Adventures.

Chapter Text

                                                                                                                   The Science Family Adventures

 

 

Chapter Ten: The Wild Women of Wimauma, Part 3

 

The Snidge-West family was led through a warren of deserted tunnels. The inhabitants either were avoiding the newcomers or ordered to stay in their homes. Andrew and Elizabeth were silent and looked straight ahead; Andrew out of worry, Elizabeth because she was concentrating on checking for side tunnels and counting her steps. Even though she had long retired from active Street Safe duty, the training hadn’t left her.

Herbert was behaving like a tourist, oohing and aahing over the symbols carved into the walls. He tried whispering questions to their escort but the man hadn’t spoken another word. The scientist finally gave up, pouting.

About halfway down the tunnel the walls were decorated with huge paintings of the strangest animals Andrew and Elizabeth had ever seen, even in textbooks. One creature resembled a large tan cat with a long graceful tail. Another cat was smaller, with no tail and tuft ears. A large green, scaly monster grinned at them with dagger like teeth. There were also creatures that must have lived in what people used to call The Sea. One was a large gray fish-like creature with a bottle-shaped nose. It seemed to smile at Andrew.

Elizabeth was admiring a gray beast with whiskers on a face so ugly it was cute. It had flippers where people had hands and a rounded tail that resembled a spoon. All of the paintings were lovingly colored and enameled to prevent fading.

Herbert grinned and told the scientific names for all the animals to anyone who would listen. “Look!” He waved a hand at the wall. “All of these fascinating creatures were once native to or found in Florida. Its subtropical climate allowed for a vast variety of wildlife. According to fossil records it was of the few regions on the continent not covered during the Ice Age.”

“That hardly matters any more, does it?” the man spoke bitterly. “All of them are now extinct. They survived white settler’s encroachment only to be done in by climate change.” He held up a hand before anyone could speak again. “This hall is a memorial to their memory, so that although our people can never see an alligator or a manatee again, we won’t forget them either.”

The man turned away and began walking. “This isn’t a tour. Let’s go.”

 

                                                                                                                              ******

 

The General Council turned out to be five people; Hialeah, who they had met, an older woman who resembled her, two women slightly older than Hialeah, and one man who was taking notes.

The room they met in had a strange structure in the middle. It looked like a thatched hut but with no walls. Herbert whispered it was called a chickee. There were five chairs in a semi-circle and three other chairs in a straight line. The council stood up when they entered; Elizabeth wondered if this was part of their traditions as well or if they just wanted to get a better look at the outsiders.

Hialeah pointed to the line of chairs. “Sit.” Then as an afterthought, she added, “please.”

The older woman nodded with approval. Seeing how the women seemed in charge around here Elizabeth took the seat in the middle with Andrew and Herbert on either side.

She took the opportunity to mutter to Herbert, “Let me do the talking.”

He nodded once and mercifully kept silent. On her left Andrew squirmed a bit in his chair but stilled when she took his hand and squeezed it gently. He managed a shy smile and then all three of them faced forward.

The council was once again seated. Hialeah took it upon herself to make the introductions.

“As you know, I am Hialeah and I am the chairperson here. I am proud to say our assistant chairperson is my mother, Hachi.” The woman nodded at the prisoners. “Our treasurer is Isi,” Hialeah pointed to her left. “And our lawmaker is Kinta.” She pointed to her right.

She was about to proceed when the older man cleared his throat politely. “And last is our secretary, Atepa.” The man nearly smiled in appreciation then returned to his notes.

Hialeah sat up straight in her chair. “You stand accused of trespassing. Your guilt is obvious; you were witnessed by a member of our tribe. However,” she said before Elizabeth could protest. “Your intent is equally important. You say you are merely lost and wish to return home. You may now plead your case.” She settled back and indicated Elizabeth could now speak.

Elizabeth rose shakily to her feet, letting go of Andrew’s hand. He and Herbert exchanged worried glances as she began to address the council.

The reanimated woman straightened her spine and copied Hialeah’s formality. “Thank you, members of the council, for allowing me to speak on my family’s behalf.”

Her son and lover nodded dutifully. She took a step towards the council, and then froze as they leaned away from her. Elizabeth stood her ground and continued.

“Yes, we trespassed. We had no idea and no way of knowing you lived here. I know,” she held up a hand before anyone could speak, “ignorance of the law is no excuse and I’m not making any. I just want you to understand our situation.”

She smiled what she hoped was a reassuring smile at Andrew. “There are only three of us. You confiscated our supplies so you should know we’re not a threat to you. We have no weapons, little food, and not even a change of clothing. There are at least fifty of you. You saw how easy it was to overpower us. Just let us go. Please. You don’t have to let us rest but I would appreciate it if you could find it in your hearts to at least return our pack.”

Hachi looked her up and down, and then at the two men, who tried to look as innocuous as possible. She looked back at Elizabeth. “No weapons but you had three books. Even a man could tell you books are weapons for the right person. And what books!” She pulled out Herbert’s prospector pack and set the three books on the table. She read the spines and looked at Elizabeth.

“The Art of War, The Anarchist’s Cookbook, and a treatise on building robots,” Hachi looked at Elizabeth. “You or your men folk have exotic taste in literature.”

“It’s for a rescue!” Andrew burst out.

The council flinched at the interruption. Elizabeth was mortified. Herbert clapped his hand over his mouth in a rare show of common sense.

“Andrew!” Elizabeth chastised. “It’s rude to speak out of turn.”

“I’m sorry, Mom, but it’s for Doctor Caligari’s sake.” If they were going to kill him, he had to have his say first. He turned towards the council. “Look, I apologize for breaking protocol or whatever but she needs us!”

The council muttered angrily among themselves until the chairperson clapped her hands for silence. She looked at Andrew and her glare could have melted stone. He shut his mouth.

Hialeah ignored him and stared at Elizabeth. “Who is Doctor Caligari and why is she in danger?”

“She’s…family,” Elizabeth cast her eyes heavenward and hoped The Founders wouldn’t strike her dead for fudging the truth a bit. “Emily Caligari is…Herbert’s sister. She’s a prisoner and we have to get back to our city to save her.”

“She can’t save herself?” Isi wanted to know.

“Ordinarily, I’d say Emily could get herself out of anything,” Elizabeth answered honestly. “She’s a scientist and very resourceful. But,” Elizabeth debated with herself about how much she should tell the people holding her prisoner. She decided to tell part of the truth. “Emily is a genius, although I wouldn’t say that to her face. She’s not only good at what she does; she’s very ambitious and successful. However…she also cares about her city and her family. There are always people who resent the success of others so…she was arrested on some made-up charges and some corrupt officials had her arrested.” Elizabeth neglected to mention the corrupt officials were The Directors themselves. “So we want to get her out of jail and clear her name. Because she’s family and that’s what you do when your family needs you. Even if you don’t always get along.”

Herbert applauded as quietly as he could while Andrew stared at his mother in awe. He’d forgotten how eloquent she could be when she had to, like after the Awoken attack.

The council did not talk to the prisoners but whispered among themselves. All but Hialeah. The younger woman’s eyes never left Elizabeth, who could not tear her eyes away. It was like a staring contest; the first one to blink was the loser.

To Elizabeth’s relief Hialeah blink and then turned away from the mother to whisper with her fellow council members. After ten agonizing minutes, the chairperson clapped her hands and spoke to the small family.

“It is our decision you did not mean to trespass and we will eventually return your belongings to you. Furthermore, you will be allowed to stay with us for one week while we replenish your supplies with what we can spare. As our guests, you’ll be expected to earn your keep, either part of a hunting party, or helping with the aquaponic farms. Everyone earns their keep in Wimauma.”

“Agreed,” Elizabeth smiled gratefully and Andrew and Herbert relaxed.

“Not so fast,” Hialeah held up her hand. “We expect you to follow our laws and our traditions as best you can. We don’t want outsiders here and there are those in our tribe who are unhappy you’ve been allowed to live this long.” Her expression was stern, almost angry. “Betray our hospitality and I will have you publicly executed. Am I understood?”

All three of the Snidge-West bobbed their heads obediently. The chairperson rolled her shoulders back. It seemed to be her version of relaxing.

Herbert coughed and Hialeah looked at him. “Do you have a scientific community here? I’d love to ‘talk shop’, as it were. With your kind permission of course, Madame Chairperson.”

The rest of the council snickered. Hialeah looked at Elizabeth skeptically. “Your man is…a scientist? Really?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth spoke before Herbert could offend their hosts. “He really is. Almost as brilliant as his sister.” Herbert looked indignant but didn’t speak.

“Not an engineer?” Kinta wanted to know.

“No, but my son is,” Elizabeth said proudly. “He has a talent for it. Not that I’m biased.”

Andrew blushed. “Aw, Mom.”

“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?” Herbert couldn’t help but add. “We’re very proud.”

The corners of the chairperson’s lips turned up slightly. “We may have a use for a male scientist. And an engineer. Tula?” She raised her voice and an unseen intercom crackled to life.

“Yes, chairperson?” A female voice answered.

“Find an unused space for our guests.” She looked at the small family. “Rest now. We’ll put you to work in the morning.”

 


Were you worried, readers? No need. Our heroes have found somewhat friendly accommodations. What lies ahead? Look forward to learning more…in The Science Family Adventures.

Chapter Text

                                                                                                             The Science Family Adventures


Interlude Three: Davenport

 


Davenport tapped at his computer keyboard and tried not to glance at his watch. It was almost five o’ clock; he knew it almost instinctively by now. Every Wednesday at five o’ clock Doctor Caligari let him off an hour early to go down to the Level One.

Wednesday was the day the Company posted the names of the known dead. Checking for Er…for his daughter’s name was a weekly ritual for him now. He hadn’t found hers yet, but he wasn’t stupid enough to hold out hope; it could simply mean her corpse hasn’t been found yet.

With great difficulty, the former VP wrenched his mind away from his family to the report he was supposed to be working on for his less than patient employer. Caligari was fair, but having Chamberlain prowl around like a shark was still unnerving.

Caligari barely looked up from the mechanism she was designing to address him. “Yes. I know it’s almost five o’ clock, Davenport. Are you finished with that report?”

He hastily typed a few more lines and tried not to chafe at her commanding tone. She spoke the same way to everyone but every now and then he missed being in charge.

“Uh…almost, Doc. Some of the teams are working on draining the tunnels, thanks to the efforts of Sandy, Clay and Loamy but most of them are still working on the assignments they were given before the ant attack. There’s still no new Overseer and with the flood and the overcrowding, no one in the Company has bothered to appoint a new one. But they’re removing supports and tunnels are collapsing further…”

Caligari blinked at the mention of the one-armed femole’s name. “With all the problems going on, you’d think someone would take a little initiative.”

Davenport shook his head. His friendship with Clay had given him a little insight into the mole mindset. “They weren’t created for that. They’re bred to obey a human, any human. Unless they receive new orders from a human, they just do whatever assignment they were given until the end of time. Even if all the tunnels collapse around them.”

Caligari sighed and muttered under her breath about how Mole People and certain executives had one-track minds. “Then since the Company hasn’t assigned a new Overseer, I guess it’s up to me if we want anything done around here.”

The scientist put down her drafting implements and looked at her assistant. “Finish that up and take a memo. Deliver it to…Loamy? That’s the name, right?” Davenport wondered if she’d really forgotten the femole’s name or if she were just pretending for the sake of her audience.

“That’s right,” Davenport answered cautiously, glancing cautiously at Chamberlain. The agent didn’t seem to be listening but the former VP knew better. The creep didn’t miss a word anyone ever said around him.

“Right. Loamy. Deliver this memo to her…after your little trip to Level One.” Caligari also flicked her gaze in Chamberlain’s direction then back at her assistant. “Well?” she asked impatiently.

“Sorry!” Davenport finished his report in a flurry of typing, not even bothering to proofread it. He doubted it mattered. He saved his work and then reached into his desk for a pen and a memo pad. He looked at Doctor Caligari expectantly as she began to speak again.

 

                                                                                                                                   *****

 


Davenport made his way through the desperate crowd with difficulty. People had begun to recognize him from his outings with Caligari and not from his former status. He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or insulted. He tried not to meet anyone’s eyes or they’d stop him and try to ask when the algae plant would be at full capacity again or when they could return home. He didn’t have a good answer for them and was too tired to lie.

As he fought his way to the wall of names, he could have sworn he recognized a few people he’d served coffee to, including those decent people from the waste field. They were arguing with a person Davenport swore looked like Archibald Funnypants but he couldn’t be sure and didn’t have the time or energy to care.

After sidestepping a pregnant woman holding a listless toddler he finally reached his destination and scanned the wall for his daughter’s name. No luck. His broad shoulders slumped. He wished for the one thousandth time his last words to his offspring hadn’t been angry ones. Now not knowing what happened to her preyed on him. At least if he knew for sure he could properly mourn.

Davenport turned away from the wall and pretended not to notice the sea of hopeful eyes staring at him, desperate for a scrap of information from the Tower.


                                                                                                                                                *****

Down in Old Tunnel wasn’t any less crowded than Level One, just a bit more cheerful. Most moles probably didn’t know what the word “depression” meant. The Mole People greeted him with a reverence he hadn’t seen in months and he enjoyed it despite himself.

“Uh…” he said after a few minutes of bowing and scraping. “I’m looking for Loamy, Clay, or Sandy. Probably all three. Can you point me in their direction? I…forgot where Loamy lives. No offense, but some of these tunnels are confusing.”

“I can take you there!” One of the younger moles volunteered eagerly. Davenport couldn’t tell if they were mole or femole but didn’t think he should ask.

“Sure…uh…what’s your name?”

The mole gasped in awe. “No person has ever asked my name before! It’s Chalky, sir.”

“Well, Chalky,” Davenport gestured to a tunnel that looked vaguely familiar. “Lead the way.”

“Yes, sir!” the young mole saluted eagerly. The rest of the moles looked disappointed and began to disperse. Davenport followed his guide down the tunnel. He hoped this visit would be quick.


                                                                                                                              *****

“Mister Davenport!” Clay pulled aside the tarp covering the entrance to Loamy’s apartment and ushered the human guest inside. “We were just about to have some chai. Would you like some?”

“Sure thing, Clay. Just don’t ask me to make it.” Davenport knew his joke was feeble but Clay was nice enough to laugh anyway. “Glad to see you. I was sent by Doctor Caligari to see you specifically. Well, you, Loamy, and Sandy.”

“Doctor Caligari? She sent you to find…me?” The one-armed femole straightened her whiskers and fluffed up her fur as if she thought the scientist would appear any minute.

“Well, you lucked out, Mister Davenport,” Clay looked up from the kettle he was taking off the stove. “We’re all here together! Having chai! Just…three friends getting together for chai and conversation and not an illegal Union at all.”

Sandy shushed her mate and he rolled his eyes as he gathered four teacups and measured out chai for everyone. Clay poured the hot water in each cup and then let it steep as he rejoined Sandy. The three moles clustered together on Loamy’s small couch after insisting their human guest have the more comfortable armchair.

Bonjour, monsieur, said a familiar voice from the wall.

“You too, Meaty,” Davenport replied. He noticed the wall of synthetic meat had more of a pseudo-face now, and had even sprouted arms.

“Matt,” Loamy told him primly, “their name is Matt. Chose it myself. And that’s Molly,” she nodded at the mass of carnivorous mold in the corner.

Davenport nearly jumped out of his seat. “Jeez, Loamy!” The monster mold shrank away as if offended and he tried to calm himself. “Uh, sure. You tamed the mold and named it Molly. Why not?” He forced himself to add, “Nice name. Can…she do tricks?”

The mold in question answered him by forming a skeletal human hand out of itself and giving him thumbs up.

The shock must have shown on his face because Loamy said proudly, “I’ve been teaching ‘er sign language. Molly’s much smarter now that she’s fed on Matt and not Mole People. Or real people.”

“Great.” Davenport looked down at the envelope in his hand.

“You mentioned something about Doctor Caligari?” Clay spoke up helpfully.

“Oh, right!” Davenport opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. The moles were awed at the sight of genuine paper and he cleared his throat for silence.

To Whom It May Concern,

I, Doctor Emily P. Caligari, in the interest of efficiency and order, do hereby assign the post of Mole Overseer to the femole known as Loamy. I know her to be smart and resourceful and her disability does not affect her leadership skills.

I also assign the femole known as Sandy to be Senior Assistant to the Mole Overseer. She will help Loamy she needs an extra hand, literally, and in the event of unforeseen death of the Overseer, take over. You moles really need some rules of succession. The mole designated as Clay will be Junior Assistant and help make out schedules, making sure the best moles are assigned to the highest priority jobs first. It is up to the Overseer’s discretion to decided what is the highest priority, as long as it doesn’t conflict with Company policy too much.

Sincerely,

Doctor Emily Caligari

PS: Congrats on the new job, Loamy’

Sandy barely waited until Davenport was done reading before she pulled Clay to his feet, spun him in a circle, and kissed the surprised mole senseless. The mole blinked and then staggered his way to the teacups. “I’ll…I’ll serve the tea. Boss.” He winked at Sandy, then at Loamy.

The poor one-armed femole looked gobsmacked. “Me? She chose me to be Overseer?” Loamy’s eyes quickly filled with tears and Davenport patted down his pockets until he found a well-creased handkerchief. He looked at it before handing it over. Erin had bought it for him with her very first discretionary credits. The former VP wondered how he could have forgotten that.

Loamy wiped her eyes. “No human has ever shown such confidence in me and to think it was…her.” Loamy reached over and gently clasped Davenport’s hand. “Thank you so much, Mister Davenport. I promise to be the best Overseer possible and repay Doctor Caligari’s faith in me!”

Davenport felt awkward witnessing the femole’s heartfelt emotion and glanced away. Sandy and Clay were giggling over who would serve the chai and looked back at Loamy instead. Seeing the happy couple made him remember Lorraine and he’d rather not do that right now.

Loamy saw where he had been staring and sighed with longing. “It nice to see people in love but it makes you envious too, you know?” she asked softly.

Davenport’s eyes met the femole’s and he nodded. He noticed the way Loamy looked when she talked about his boss and though the Company frowned upon interspecies romance, he found it somewhat sweet. The ants and the flood reminded him how short life was, and Loamy was a better person with only one arm than half the people he ever worked with.

Sandy and Clay brought over the tea and between the two of them managed to serve everyone chai and little Meatwall sausages. Davenport sipped, chewed, and made small talk between bites. The moles answered his questions about mole society and how things were going with tunnel drainage and how long before policies could go home. Any other time he might have considered the conversation boring but today he found it restful. The three moles wanted nothing but his company and he found it ironic the only ones to treat him like a person lately were Mole People, a race he once considered beneath him.

Davenport made a show of looking at his watch and saying he had to go. Sandy and Clay sounded disappointed but Loamy stood up and walked him to the door.

“If Mister Davenport has to go, we shan’t keep him,” Loamy told her friends firmly. She held the tarp open for him. “’Ere you are! Good day! You’re welcome to visit any time. If you give us a bit of notice, we’ll have chai waiting for you when you get ‘ere!”

Davenport smiled for the first time in weeks. It was nice to feel welcome somewhere. “Good luck, Loamy. You’ll make a great Overseer.”

Loamy blinked rapidly. “Off with you now, Mister Davenport. You’ll make me cry again.” She suddenly remembered the handkerchief. “Don’t worry, I’ll have this spic and span for you next time you pop ‘round.”

Davenport nodded. ”Thanks,” he told her and left, drawing the tarp back as he did so.

Once the human guest was gone, the cheerful expression dropped off Loamy’s face. “Poor dear. He misses that daughter of his.”

Sandy shook her head in sympathy. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you two,” she squeezed Clay’s hand.

Clay frowned. “You know, once I create a schedule for everyone, I’ll have some free time. Should I ask around about his daughter, Boss?” he addressed Loamy.

Loamy giggled. “Hearing you lot call me that will take some getting used to.” She thought for a bit and nodded. “Clay, you know a few decent people at the ‘ospital, right? Can you ask around for Mister Davenport?”

“She could be there and no one would know with all the casualties.” Sandy volunteered, “But I bet a well-organized mole like Clay could help.” Clay beamed at her gratefully.

Loamy smiled her approval. “With assistants like you two, we’ll get these tunnels sorted out in no time!”


*****

Two weeks passed without any word about Erin and Davenport could feel his patience began to fray. Eventually even Caligari noticed and pulled herself out of her self-involvement to talk to him.

“Davenport, this has to stop,” she said to him after ordering Chamberlain to go pick up the algae bar delivery. The agent had shot or interrogated so many delivery people no one wanted the route any more.

Her expression was the closest he’d ever seen to sympathetic. “I know what’s it’s like to lose family,” she almost stumbled over the word. “I don’t mind letting you off an hour early once a week because you always make up the time.” She shuffled some papers on her desk and skewered him with her gaze. “But if your personal trauma begins to affect your work output, I can only be so indulgent before I have to say something.”

Davenport opened his mouth to protest. Dozens of possible responses flooded his mind before he clamped his jaws shut and nodded. “You’re right, Doc. Erin is…gone. I need to acknowledge that and move on.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re finally ready to move on.” Caligari cleared her throat and her expression softened until she almost looked compassionate. “I know what it’s like to lose people important to me. I’m…sorry you’re hurting, Davenport.” Her face shifted back to cynical indifference before he could blink. “Take the rest of the day off but I expect you back to work an hour earlier tomorrow. Time to get your priorities straight if you want to keep working for me, Edward.”

The former VP sagged with relief and stood. “Thank you for your patience, Doctor Caligari,” he held his hand out for her to shake and to his surprise, she took it and squeezed it gently before letting go.

“See you tomorrow, Davenport,” she told him briskly and turned away.

“Yes, ma’am,” he couldn’t help but wonder what she was upset about but knew better than to ask. He headed towards the door. “Good night.”

“Good night.”

****

Thirty minutes later Davenport found his way tiptoeing through a hospital hallway in the intensive care ward. He didn’t want to wake patients who were still recovering or be noticed by the hospital staff. He was sure at least one or two of them might have remembered the man responsible for cutting power.

The letter had been slipped under his apartment door and only contained four words: “Intensive Care: Room 349”. He kept it in his breast pocket like a good luck charm.

The room was ajar so he didn’t have to risk knocking and figured no one would notice his visit if he was quick and quiet.

He gently pushed the door closed behind him and looked at the patient on the bed. The person had a sheet pulled up to their chin so only their head and arms peeked out. The limbs were half-wrapped in gauze and at least three fingers on each hand were splinted together.

The face was pale and stitched together over one eye. The hair on the head was less than an inch long, no doubt shaved off for surgery and had only recently begin to grow back. It didn’t matter; he knew that face, wiped its tears, and watched it glow as it tortured its first policy.

“Erin? Erin sweetie? Can you hear me?” he called out softly. He sank into the chair beside the bed and waited for an answer. He was about to give up and leave when her lashes fluttered and her eyes opened.

Her eyes were bloodshot and looked like hell. It took several minutes of blinking before she could focus on him and her lips were dry and cracked.

“D-Dad? Dad?” she tried to tilt her head to get a better look at him. “Are you…real?”

“Are the Actuaries creepy?” He touched her hand and was glad to see her fist curl around his fingers as they did when she was a baby. “Yeah, sweetie. I’m here.”

Her voice was faint and raspy and more welcome than Exclusion Day.”…sorry.”

Davenport was quiet. He didn’t have to ask what she was apologizing for. He waited to feel the familiar anger and resentment about what she’d done. When he didn’t he just said, “I know.”

“Still…barista?” she asked hesitantly.

“Nope,” he smiled at her surprised expression. “I work for Doctor Caligari now. She’s…okay.”

“How?”

Davenport sighed. “Well, Erin, that’s a long story.”

Her eyes darted to the door and back to her broken body. “M’not going anywhere.”

“You have a point, sweetheart,” Davenport leaned closer to his daughter’s hospital bed and began his story. “It all began about a week after the flood. I was in Level One and-”


Sorry this isn’t a chapter about the Snidge-Wests, dear readers, but I hope you don’t mind catching up with Mister Davenport. Worry not! They will appear in the next chapter of…The Science Family Adventures.

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                    The Science Family Adventures

 


Chapter Eleven: The Wild Women of Wimauma, Part 4

 


“Are you sure you don’t mind having me along?” Elizabeth asked the leader of the hunting party.

The man, whose name was Nashoba, sighed and said. “No, ma’am. Of course not.”

He did not seem as if he wanted to say anything else about the matter so she held the dagger she had borrowed from Hialeah and pretended to shiver with the men. They all wore wolf and raccoon pelt furs, fine for every day but the wind had begun to blow harder. Aside from herself, there was an old man, Chebona, and two youngsters around Andrew’s age. No one but the old hunter seemed to want her along.

“Nice of the Chairperson to allow this stranger to hunt with us and not ask how we felt first,” one of the boys told the other.

“She speaks and we must obey,” the other muttered under his breath.

Elizabeth focused her best “Mother’s Gaze” on the pair until they dropped their eyes. They knew she knew what they said and that satisfied her. They did not have to like her to hunt with her and she was earning her keep while satisfying her hunger.

To her surprise, the old man laughed. “You got caught, didn’t you? Maybe next time you’ll learn to keep your mouths shut.” He smiled at Elizabeth. “Excuse them. We don’t get strangers here. In addition, Nita and Nakosi are young. All the stupid hasn’t had enough time to leak out of their heads.”

The two grunted in surprise and Elizabeth smiled back. “Thank you for speaking up for me, Chebona. Sorry for intruding.”

“It’s my last hunt,” the old man clapped a friendly hand on her shoulder. “Might as well make it memorable!”

She didn’t understand what that meant but before she could ask, Nashoba began speaking and his fellow hunters quieted down and listened obediently.

“A gaze of at least ten raccoons has been spotted near our midden pile, that’s garbage to you, ma’am,” Nashoba focused on Elizabeth for a moment then away. “I’ve been tracking them. It’s almost nightfall so they’ll be out foraging soon. We’ll wait near the pile then attack at dusk. Everyone armed?”

The two boys brandished short axes; she’d heard them called tomahawks, while the old man held a crossbow. Nashoba carried a double-barreled shotgun. “The best gift your people ever gave mine,” he told Elizabeth when he saw her surprise. He looked at the others and made his way to the strange vehicles called “snowmobiles.” “Time to go.”

*****

The first part of the hunt went exactly as planned. They young men brought down a bull raccoon together. Nashoba took out three smaller animals by himself, the shotgun blast sent a panicky raccoon right in Elizabeth’s path and she slit its throat and apologized to its corpse. Poor thing only wanted to survive, just like her. Still, the smell of the blood caused her to forget her reluctance. It was so appetizing and she was getting hungry. No one would miss a teensy little morsel.

She fed quickly and then wiped her mouth. She heard the twang of Chebona’s bow and headed towards the sound. She found the old man trying to fend off two raccoons at once. His hands shook with the effort of re-arming his crossbow. It was too late; he was already bleeding and with the others busy with their own prey there was no one but Elizabeth to help him.

The reanimated corpse beat down her blood lust, rushing forward to help. The raccoons snarled at her intrusion but she jabbed her dagger into one of the creature’s heads while she wrestled with its mate. Chebona was ignored as she finally threw the animal to the ground and twisted the head, breaking its neck.

The other raccoon was still twitching so she broke its neck as well. It convulsed and quietly went still.

Elizabeth went to Chebona’s side. The old hunter was still alive! She didn’t want to leave him to get the others but didn’t want to give away her strength. Well, the hell with it. She lifted up the elderly shoulders and proceeded to drag him towards the others when his raspy voiced stopped her.

“Leave me.”

Elizabeth halted with surprise. “But, why? We need to get you to Herbert, he’ll help you…”

Chebona shook his head. “I’m done for. When I said it was my last hunt, I meant it. This is how I wanted to go out, taking two of those furry bastards with me.” He did his best to smile at her with bloody teeth. “To die in the chickee means the tribe has to move so this is better.”

She wanted to argue with him but stopped. This was his life and his culture’s tradition. She had no right to interfere.

Elizabeth stood beside him a closed his eyes and folded his wrinkled arms across his chest when he stopped moving.

Nita and Nakosi reached her first and ignored the body and the woman’s tears while they dragged the raccoon carcasses towards their transportation.

Nashoba stood beside her and then bowed his head, saying a few words in a language she didn’t understand. “He chose his death a long time ago, ma’am. This was the fate he wanted.” A little bit of his resentment towards her faded. “Still, it was nice of you to be here for him. A pretty face before he died.”

Elizabeth wiped her face of its frozen tears. “Do you mind if I take a few minutes to say good bye?”

The hunter thought for a moment. “Sure. Five minutes. Then we load up and leave.”

It was dreadful to leave the poor man exposed like this. Still, no need wasting an opportunity…

Elizabeth ate her fill and then sliced off a considerable hunk of flesh for Herbert to grow into a new Meatwall. “Forgive me, Chebona, and thank you,” she whispered. She wrapped her ghoulish handiwork in a bit of fur from the man’s coat and quietly joined the others in securing their cargo.

 

                                                                                                                                                        *****

 

“Wow!”

Andrew looked over the aquaculture greenhouse he had been assigned. Stretched out before him was a huge green rectangle of plants he’d only seen in Doctor Moro’s books. No algae in sight, just row after row of big plants; leafy vegetables called cabbage, lettuce, mustard greens. Some of the plants were tall and thin and had brown stalks at the top. The last plants were taller still and covered in green cylindrical growths. He recognized them; Clay and Sandy had let him try some. It was…corn.

“This is how we grow food here.” Hialeah seemed to enjoy Andrew’s enthusiasm. She lifted up a white plastic sheet full of seedlings and showed him what was underneath. Below the plants was a pond not unlike the algae fields back home. Unlike them, the water was clear and he could see little creatures swimming in it. One of them poked its head out of the water and looked at him with strange round eyes before retreating to safety. He jumped back.

“What…was that…?” He looked at Hialeah, who explained.

That is the tilapia, the fish we fed you,” she told him. Andrew stared and she nearly laughed. “Yes, it’s strange that something so ugly could taste so good.”

He chuckled a bit and then asked, “So do the plants feed the fish?”

“Not exactly,” Hialeah replaced the white plastic and elaborated. “We feed the fish pellets made from soybeans. Microbes help break down the fish…waste. Then the waste fertilizes the plants and the plants clean the water. Sometimes duckweed grows in the still ponds and the fish eat that as well.”

She seemed to enjoy teaching him. This was as nice as anyone in her tribe had been to him. It was strange but he liked it. His brow furrowed and he focused on his guide. “Sorry for interrupting but you seem a lot less formal than you did in the Council. Do you like growing things?”

Hialeah gave him a small wry smile. “Growing food has been considered woman’s work for a long time in our culture. Life sprouts from us as it does from the earth. Men hunt and build because that is the best use of their natural aggression. It’s all of us working together that keeps the tribe successful.”

“That didn’t exactly answer my question.” Andrew saw her expression change and added hastily, “but it was still cool to know! Where I come from, we don’t really assign jobs according to gender. You take a test and the Company decides what job you have for the rest of your life based on your aptitude and ...your identity variance score.”

She didn’t seem to like that. “You have no choice in your profession?” Hialeah scowled and then continued “Yes, we rely on tradition but if a woman wants to hunt or a man wants to farm and they are capable, we don’t force them in a career they hate.” She sighed. “Despite what some of the young men say. My own father went against tradition and became a chef. He cooked your meal,” Hialeah told Andrew proudly.

“His cooking is delicious!” Andrew replied. He looked around and said quietly. “Never tell him I said this, but Doc-err…Dad is only really good at a few dishes. That’s why Mom tries to keep him out of the kitchen. I mean, he could be a good cook but he gets…distracted.”

She looked at him closely. “You don’t look like your mother. Moreover, Doctor West is not your father but you address him as such. Why?”

Andrew shrugged. “Well, Mom adopted me and Dad…huh, I‘m not sure how to explain. We’re a family by choice. We’re not related by blood but we all care about each other and would die for one another. That’s just as important as whatever clan you’re born into, right?”

Hialeah shook her head. “That isn’t how we do things in mine or any clan. To be a member of our tribe your mother must be Miccosukee. Husbands join their wives’ clans. You can only belong through birth or marriage.”

“No offense, but that sounds kind of limiting,” Andrew told her. “I kind of like the way my family is better.”

The two were silent as Hialeah tended the plants and fed the fish. Andrew watched her for a bit then checked and changed the biofilter before copying his instructor’s actions. He finally got up the nerve to speak again.

“So…have you thought about my earlier question? The way you’re different in here I mean. Are you just communing with nature or whatever?”

“The cabbage doesn’t ask me questions.” She smiled at Andrew’s expression. “That wasn’t aimed at you. The Council and the tribe are always asking me questions. They want me to pick a husband from a neighboring tribe. Good politics, they say. However, that tribe is very patriarchal and wants an obedient bride. I worry they mean to take us over and enforce their own beliefs onto us. Some of our young men don’t like having women in charge, even though it was the folly of men that caused women to take over the ruling of the tribe.”

She sighed. “Everyone wants a part of me. The plants and the fish just want to eat and grow. It’s peaceful.”

He nodded and together they tended the rest of the plants in near silence. The only sound was the low hum of machinery and the swish of water as fish fought over the pellets. He thought of Cassie and much fun she would have had feeding the fish.

Andrew blinked and then said, “Hey, if you don’t mind, can I hear more about this other tribe? I thought you guys were the only ones down here.”

“They live a few days journey to the north,” she answered cautiously. Their chief isn‘t elected, the position in their tribe is inherited by the oldest son of the Wind Clan. Their leader is a man named Micanopy.”

Hialeah pruned some leaves from a basil plant savagely. She clearly did not like this man. “Women in that clan have no say in finances, law, or even who they marry. That has never been our way but their elders are so threatened by a woman with brains they try to ensure they’ll never have to share their power. His son is Micco.” His host seemed to forget he was there for a moment and smiled, her expression soft with nostalgia.

“When we were children he and his father would visit often and we’d trade goods. Sometimes people would ask to join our tribe and vice versa. However, when we were ten his father stopped visiting and said I was a bad influence on his son. No one is allowed to leave their tribe any more and if we trade it’s on neutral ground far away from either tribe.” She looked up at Andrew. “Why?”

He shrugged. “If they’re that hostile towards women I don’t want Mom any where near them.” That was more for their sake than for his mom’s but Hialeah didn’t need to know that. He was quiet again and then asked, “Do you teach fighting here? Like…in case of attack or when you have to wrestle wolves or something?”

“Perhaps,” she looked him over, not in judgment but in curiosity. “You want to become stronger? Be a warrior?”

“Yeah. Don’t get me wrong! Mom and Dad are the best. They even fought off badgers to save me. It would be nice if I could protect myself, though. I hate being a burden." He glanced shyly at the young leader's face.  "You understand, right?”

Hialeah decided Andrew was telling the truth and nodded. “I do. I’ll find you an instructor while you’re here. But!” She pointed at him, her stern expression back in place. “After your daily work is done.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“Then it’s agreed,” she sat down on the edge of the concrete wall. “I would like to hear more of this Hart Life you mentioned.”

“Only if you tell me more about your culture. Whatever’s not sacred or classified is fine.” Andrew smiled at Hialeah, who surprised him by smiling back.

“Agreed.” She took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. “You say you like engineering? Let me show you how the water pumps work.”

 

                                                                                                                            *****

 

Herbert West flitted from workstation to workstation like a hummingbird after an espresso. “Oooh! I adore your electron microscope! Tell me, do you have a sample of polio on-hand? What about antibiotic resistant microbes? DNA therapy? Marvelous. I do have a few theories in that regard. Biology is one of my specialties, though I  love to dabble in pathology now and again. Then there’s the fun of zoology. I used to do quite a bit of research involving badgers but alas, I’ve recently lost my taste for it. Xenophobic little buggers.”

The tunnel he was in was a laboratory complex and the room Hachi, Hialeah’s mother had guided him to was one of the largest. Fifteen scientists worked quietly in this room, some in small groups, others alone. The space had an aura of calm and peace, an air quickly dissipated by the presence of Herbert West.

“Oh, Christmas! Do forgive me, fellow scientists. It’s been nearly a month since I’ve had access to anything remotely resembling proper equipment . I cannot tell you how delightful it is to interact with my peers again!”

The other scientists seemed torn between amusement and irritation at their exuberant visitor. One of the women took it upon herself to act as spokesperson.

“Hello, my name is Doctor Osyka,” she held out her hand for him to shake, clearly familiar with the custom. She didn’t smile or try to make him feel welcome but at least she wasn’t scowling at him.

Doctor Osyka was a tall woman with sharp cheekbones and intelligent eyes. Her stern expression reminded him of Emily Caligari and for a minute Herbert felt a stab of homesickness and worry.

Herbert West pushed those feelings down and gladly shook his colleague’s hand. Pleasure to meet you, Osyka! It means ‘eagle’, does it not?” Osyka nodded, surprised he knew. Herbert grinned. “My name is Doctor Herbert West. Please, call me Herbert. No need for formalities in science after all!”

“Of course, Herbert.” Osyka glanced around the room. The other scientists were returning to their experiments. She lowered her voice. “We don’t often see men in the biological sciences. Nor do we usually have male physicists or chemists. Our men usually prefer to go into engineering or architecture, occasionally robotics or weapons research.”

Doctor West was surprised. “Intelligence and an interest in science knows no gender! Are such fields of research forbidden to males of your tribe, then? In that case, I must protest-”

“It isn’t that!” One of the other scientists spoke up then flushed when Herbert and Osyka turned to look at her. “I’m Doctor Panola and I’m a geneticist. That means I research DNA and how we can prevent recessive lethal mutations in our relatively small gene pool.”

Herbert frowned, his joy of meeting fellow scientists faded and he began to feel marginalized. “Really, Panola, I do know what a geneticist does. I’m a scientist. Moreover, I’m a medical doctor as well.”

A few of the other scientists looked surprised at his statement and Panola hurried on. “I sorry if I implied you didn’t. However, most scientists in our tribe are female. We don’t think men are stupid or incapable!” she added quickly before Herbert could interrupt. “It’s more a matter of…personality. Most men aren’t patient enough for the hours of data gathering and slow careful experimentation our fields require.”

“Most males prefer working with their hands, building, seeing immediate results.” Another scientist piped up. She was comfortably rounded middle-aged woman named Doctor Poloma. “They’re wonderful. It was men who designed and built the Bradawls, the exo-suits we used to dig our tunnels. They build our homes, design our lab equipment. We’re grateful for their aid and support but…” Poloma stopped and looked at Herbert guiltily.

He sighed. “Most of them aren’t cut out to be scientists, is that what you’re saying?”

None of the women would look at him. Osyka spoke again.

“Every now and then a man comes along and proves to be an exception.” Doctor Osyka looked Doctor West up and down and frowned. “I don’t know if that’s you but we don’t do infectious disease research in this lab. We use smaller enclosed labs for that. We have to be incredibly careful, especially with communicable diseases in a closed underground environment. The first rule of science is ‘Do No Harm’ after all.”

Oh, dear. They would clearly not agree with some of his forays into experimentation then. He wisely decided to keep his past projects to himself.

Herbert looked around. “Well, I don’t see an unused workstation in here. So…what can I do to assist my gracious hosts?” He was determined not to let their cliquish behavior upset him.

No one would look him in the eye for several minutes and Poloma said kindly, “Well, the Bradawls in the engineering lab need some repairs. In addition, their fuel efficiency is alarmingly low. We don’t use them that often but if we need a new tunnel or suffer a collapse, it would be good to be prepared.”

Therefore, in other words, they were politely asking him to go away and play with his toys. Herbert felt hurt and unwanted but decided it wasn’t worth arguing about. This was their home and their customs and no matter how much he disagreed, that was their right as long as they didn’t try to force their beliefs on him. Moreover, their grace period was only a week and he couldn't change their mindset in six days.  It chafed him to remain silent but he had other more important matters to think about. Emily still needed them and he wasn’t about to let his cranky “sister” down.

“Very well! Glad to be of service.” He looked around at the scientists. “Would someone be kind enough to guide me to the engineering lab?”

“I will,” Panola stood and gave him a sliver of a smile. “My father is an engineer. He would love the opportunity to…’talk shop’, I think he calls it."

Herbert graciously swept a hand towards the door. “Lead the way, my dear,” he bowed to the other scientists. “A pleasure to have met you. Good day.”

The women waited until he was out of earshot and breathed a group sigh of relief.

“He seemed all right, for an outsider,” Poloma told Osyka. “Do you think we should have told him none of the Bradawls have been used in forty years?”

Osyka shrugged. “If he’s as smart as he thinks, he’ll figure it out.” She frowned. “I feel a little bad for him. I’m sure he wants to contribute.” The scientist sighed. “Oh, well. Back to work.”

 

                                                                                                                                       *****

 

“Hialeah said I’d find you here.”

Elizabeth leaned against the doorframe and smiled down at Herbert, who was elbows deep in the innards of a ten-foot hulking automaton. He was whistling “My Girl From Albuquerque” but his heart wasn’t in it. He stopped and wiped the machine oil off his hands onto a rag.

“Hello, my love,” he managed a smile at Elizabeth and stood up, strided over to his reanimated bride and gently kissed her.

She smiled at him. “Bad day? Would the other scientists not play with you?”

Herbert pouted cutely. “Apparently men aren’t know for their patience or meticulousness in most of the sciences. They’re more inclined to build a house. Or a metallic exoskeleton used for digging,” he said, pointing at the Bradawl.

Elizabeth hugged him. “Men here are also encouraged to channel their aggression into hunting and defense as well. Being willing to kill or die, as the case may be, to feed the tribe meat is very manly to them.”

“But they don’t prevent you from changing jobs or going against tradition either,” Herbert sighed. "It's just considered...strange. However, not expressly forbidden."

Elizabeth decided to change the subject. “So, what’s the status of your Tin Man?” she asked.

Herbert’s eyes lit up as he regained some of his enthusiasm. “Oh, you’ll love it! This is how they built their tunnels, not with creating a separate servant caste but with good old robotics. These charming devils built the tunnels but with the small size of the tribe they haven’t needed them in decades. Plus the Bird Clan has produced some very gifted civil engineers who were a dab hand at city planning.” He showed Elizabeth some blueprints he’d drafted.

She looked them over then back at him. “Lasers? Stun guns? Smoke bombs? Really, Herbert, the thing already has drill arms.” She wanted to be upset and say Herbert was being over the top but she could tell Herbert was worried their hosts would not allow them to leave at the last minute.

“This is just in case, my dear,” he smiled but he didn’t seem to mean it. “I’ve rather gotten used to having a family. I have no intention of losing it.”

Elizabeth kissed him. “You won’t.” She pulled out the bit of meat she’d saved from Chebona. “This is…this was one of the men I went hunting with. It was his last hunt. Do you think you can-”

“Scare up some growth medium and grow some Meatwall?” Herbert finished for her and took the wrapped flesh. “Absolutely. I’m glad to be of use to you, my dear. As luck would have it, there are some small unused private labs. I’m sure I can pop in and whip up something for you after dinner.”

 

                                                                                                                           *****

 

The small family was unaware that two tunnels away, a group of figures was plotting against them. The visitors should have been shot on sight. This was what happened in a matriarchy; they were too soft on outsiders and bent their laws on a whim. It was time to seek out like-minded individuals. Packing some supplies, they stole away from the tribe, grabbed some snowmobiles, and headed north.

 

                                                                                                                         *****

 

Wow, I bet you thought this chapter would never end! So did I. Well, things are heating up for our heroes. What will happen? I honestly have no idea. Let us find out next time…in The Science Family Adventures.