When the coffee had been prepared and poured and everyone had a chance to add the rights amounts of cream, sugar, cinnamon, molasses – whatever they preferred, we took our cups out to the porch and sat in the sun.
I said, “I know you want something. You are so busy being polite and friendly and not asking for anything. That can only mean that you are waiting for the right moment. Now is as good a time as any.”
Rashad looked sheepish. Mellie laughed. She said, “Yeah. Yeah. We’re not as sly as we hoped. We’re been hearing about you from the family since we were kids and we wanted to meet you. Maybe hear some stories, y’know?”
“Stories?” I responded vaguely. I figured that their requests were actually more specific than that. They would need to learn how to ask direct questions.
Ellsberg squared his shoulders and stuck out his chin. He snarled, “This isn’t about revenge! It’s about justice! It’s about bringing to the light the old crimes and preventing them for perpetuating new ones.”
I made an obvious show of observing the smashed furniture around us. I inhaled pointedly. I said, “That is admirable, Bela. Unfortunately, the tool that you are using is a stupid, blunt object. It does not care who or what it must pound down to reach its goal. Do you think it will slow down for a child or an innocent bystander.”
“The Ortegas didn’t slow down. They killed children. They killed women. They will continue to do so unless they are stopped.”
I nodded. I said, “You are clearly not listening to me.”
“We know secrets,” hissed Baas, “We know the answers to ancient mysteries.”
I sipped my tea. I said, “I know more secrets than I have uses for. I have forgotten quite a few secrets just to make room for useful knowledge. Thank you, but I will pass on acquiring any more answers today.”
The harpies whispered to each other for a moment. Ithic hissed, “We know how to make a man love you forever. We know how to acquire fabulous riches.”
I rolled my eyes. I said, “I will not live forever so I see no reason to force a man to love me for such a time. I have enough wealth to care for myself and a few of my loved ones. What more do I need?”
Baas’s stiff face somehow formed a scowl. Ithic hissed, “We know where your father is.”
“The Weapons know their targets,” she said, “I am just their vehicle. I carry them to their battles and they wield me. I have no talent of my own. I had no life of my own before them. I was a whore and a junkie and had no purpose but the next john and the next fix. Do not stand between me and their foe. We will cut you to pieces.”
I head out my empty hands. I said, “I am not here to stop you. I am merely trying to understand. Perhaps I can even help.”
She shook her head. “We need no help. If I fail the Weapons, if I am too weak and I die, they will find another vehicle. The battle will go on. It has gone on forever. It will go on forever.”
I gritted my teeth. This was going to be difficult.
The house smelled of sex. Lots of sex with lots of people. I stood on the doorstep and squinted into the darkness. If any of those people were still in residence they were either asleep or had moved to some part of the building where they could not be seen or heard. I said, “I am not coming in there. I don’t have the time and I don’t want this outfit ruined.”
The man reached the edge of roof. I was a few paces behind him. I thought I had him cornered. In front of him was only the street – ten stories below. Unless he could fly or climb on walls, he had nowhere to go. Before I reached him, however, he turned and leaped.
I was impressed. He made it just past the median before gravity and three speeding cars put an end to his run. His body bounced off the first vehicle and shattered upon the second. By the third impact limbs were no longer attached. A leg spun off in one direction, an arm in another, the head in a third. Traffic came to a screeching halt.
With all eyes on the mess in the street I quickly spidered down the wall. I pushed through the crowd. I needed confirmation that my senses had been correct and that my quarry was not human. I had seen no blood, no viscera. I shouldered into the knot around the fallen arm. I got my confirmation.
Under the harsh streetlight the flesh was pale and waxy and clearly not, well, flesh. It looked more like paper mache. It was cracked but otherwise intact from fingers to elbow. It was hollow. Whatever had animated it was no longer inside.
Olesya studied me for a moment. She said, “I had expected you to be shorter. Your father is a short man.”
I shrugged. “My mother was a tall woman. My height is between that of my parents.”
Olesya favored me with a closed mouth smile. “My father was a huge man. I always felt like mouse in his presence. When I met your father I found it hard to believe that my father and he shared any blood. They looked nothing alike. In temperament they were also different. My father, tall and pale and taciturn – yours, short and grinning and full of energy. They made an interesting pair.”
The rain was white, like milk. The puddles quivered, like gelatin – or jellyfish.
“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.”