“Perhaps the machine became possessed,” I suggested. “Inanimate objects can become animated by all sorts of abnatural beings. I have encountered plenty of such creatures.”
Dr. Honda seemed to consider the idea. Then he shook his head. He said, “I don’t have your experience with such things. Nonetheless I don’t think that O.T.T.O. acted from outside influence. As far as I could observe, he was learning. And learning far faster and with more intuition than we ever would have predicted.”
“When did you start to worry?” I asked.
“When he killed one of the rats. He had twisted its neck. He brought to me and expected me to fix it, to bring it back to life. When he realized that there was nothing that I could do, nothing that anyone could do, he became very upset. He kept trying to get me to explain why the rat had died. Why anything died. I couldn’t seem to explain it in a way that he understood.”
I looked through the rusty chainlink fence to the building beyond. The old factory looked as abandoned as it was supposed to be. The sidewalks around it were cracked and, in many places, completely overgrown with ivy and berry vines. Trees, a few that must be a decade old, grew through holes in the parking lot. None of the building’s windows held glass. Most of the windows had once been boarded up but the boards were warped and falling out.
Staci suggested, “Breathe deep.”
I did. I smelled fresh turned earth. Sap. Grass. Water. Growth.
Staci’s mouth flattened into a tight line for a moment before she said, “This is the place.”
Old Ryan leaned on the wall and looked over the pond. He said, “The stories vary. In one, she’s a young mother who sent her children out to play because she wanted to take a nap. The babies drowned why she was sleeping and then she drowned herself out of grief. In another, she’s a witch that got hung in that tree on the island. Or maybe she’s a lady troll with a taste for child flesh. It all depends on which old lady you talk to.”
“Have there been a lot of drownings in the pond?” I asked.
Young Ryan laughed. “That is the question, isn’t it?” he said. “Maybe there have been hundreds. Maybe three or four. Maybe none. How deep do you think that water is?”
I tried to judge. The water was murky and still. A half dozen ducks lazily paddled across the surface. I shrugged. “Ten feet? Twenty?” I guessed.
Old Ryan nodded. He said, “I don’t think there’s a spot lower than fifteen feet and that’s after a good spot of rain. The trouble is …”
“There’s never been a body found,” Young Ryan completed his father’s sentence. “Even when a kid’s gone down in front of witnesses, no bodies ever come up. The pond’s been dragged a dozen times. No bones. No clothes. Nothing.”
Hop slouched in the corner, in a large and clearly well used recliner. The only light in the room came from a television tuned to a news station. The sound was off. Hop’s eyes were only half open. Given the reek of marijuana in the room I assumed that he was very stoned. He nodded to indicate that he had noticed my presence. I said, “Tell me about it.”
He closed his eyes completely for a moment and then forced them wide. He said, “It’s fucked is what it is. I can’t leave this house. I can’t be ’round people. I can’t see no doctor. Not with the police looking for me.”
I nodded. “Skinny William says it ate his hand.”
Hop nodded slowly. He said, “The fucked up thing ’bout it? I got no control over it but I could taste Skinny’s fingers while it chewed. Skinny got filthy hands.”
At 4 am I expected the streets to be quiet and empty. Quiet they were. Empty they were not. Dogs sat outside their homes, watching me pass. They did not bark. They did not move. They seemed uninterested in me, only paying attention because I was moving and a dog is compelled to notice a moving object. Clearly they were waiting for something – someone – else. I hoped that, whatever it was that had them up at this hour, it was unrelated to Morales’ problem and not something that I would need to address. It was a tiny hope and I did not expect it to last.
“I smell you, little spider. I smell your sweat and your tears and the blood running through your veins. I smell your breakfast digesting in your guts. You smell like your father. You smell like your grandmother. You smell out of place down here. Why have you come?”
I was asking myself the same question. Mother Hungry was a horror but, as monsters go, not a very active one. In recent years her children had come up to kill and terrorize but she, herself, stayed down here in the dark, a forgotten whisper. She was no longer even a threat to naughty children. Finally I said, “I have come to pay my respects. I have come to listen to stories from one who knew life before my father was born.”
I heard Mother Hungry suck in her breath. I heard her momentarily drum her claws on the hard granite floor. She said, “What trick is this? No one comes to me for history. They come to fight and die.”
I said, “I have had nearly two centuries of fighting. I am very good at it but, not, perhaps, as good as you. I have no interest in dying. So why fight? I would rather fill my ears with tales from one who is older, craftier and wiser than I will ever be.”
I heard her sniff, once, then again. She said, “I do not smell a lie.”
Lone Crow floated three feet above the rooftop. His expression was the smug amusement of a child who feels he is untouchable. “Was it there?” he asked, clearly already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” I said. “The sword was right where you said it would be. I would have appreciated a warning about the … goblins. Or whatever those things were.”
Lone Crow laughed. “I figured you could handle them. If you couldn’t, you shouldn’t be carrying the sword.”
“I do not like surprises, Lone Crow. If you have future ones planned I would appreciate you setting those plans aside.”
Lone did a slow aerial pirouette, laughing as he turned. “You are so old. Only old people don’t like surprises!”
Levi Malkovich consulted his map again. He frowned. He said, “I think we must have passed it.”
Donovan turned her flashlight on his face. She said, “I thought you knew where you were going. Isn’t that your map?”
Malkovich shrugged apologetically. “The map is a collaborative effort. We try to confirm the new additions but it often takes weeks before that happens. It’s not like urban archaeology is a paying gig. Most of the time the city actively works to prevent us from being down here. I racked up a few hundred in fines last year for my so-called trespassing. NYC is expensive enough without having to deal with that shit.”
Donovan pointed her light back the way we had come. The tunnel’s walls were so pocked and crenulated that it was possible that we had passed a branch without realizing it.
There was only the sound of dripping water and Malkovich adjusting the maps. Then, for a moment, we heard the sound of a baby crying. It was just a distant echo but it was clear enough to send centipedes down our spines.
Boralis grimaced in amusement. He said, “You thought that you would have more control if you created your own daemon? I see the beginnings of your difficulties right there. If you wanted a daemon, you wanted something that could not be controlled, something that had loyalty only to its own plans and desires.”
Yurimoto nodded sadly. He said, “The Symphony wanted power. I warned them that the path they had chosen had many pitfalls. They thought that a newborn daemon could be molded, could be taught fealty and obedience.”
Boralis leaned over until his eyes were level with Yurimoto’s. The old man did not flinch. Boralis said, “You knew better. Since they refused to listen to you, you decided to teach them through experience. Isn’t that right?”
The edges of Yurimoto’s lips turned up for just a moment. He said, “The experience is proving to be most educational.”
Boralis extended a hand – a paw – in greetings. I gingerly took it. As if understanding my suspicions he did not grasp my hand, he merely folded his fingers briefly around it. He said, “It is good to see you, Rose.”
“What do you want Boralis?” I asked. I could hear acid in my tones. I did not care.
“Is your father well?”
“What do you want?” I repeated.
He nodded slowly, as if he understood something that I did not. He said, “You have not seen him in decades then?”
I folded my arms and said nothing. Boralis may have once helped my father rule a kingdom but that was centuries ago. His more recent attempt on my life had far more significance to me.