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Lisa was scrubbing the hallway on the third floor, backing her way by the doors to the inmates’ cells. When she reached the end, she stood up, stretching her back, and picked up her bucket to take it down to the kitchen for clean water. She was very glad of the elevator that had recently been installed – no more hauling buckets up and down stairs now, at least. As she approached the elevator call, she saw Professor Vartanian in the doorway of his office. “Good morning, Lisa,” he said.
“Good morning, sir,” she said, bobbing a curtsy. She pressed the call button, and in a few second, the elevator car arrived. It was not, however, empty, and Lisa moved aside to let Beatrixe Rouse step outside. “Oh, hello there!” she said.
“Hello, Ms. Rouse,” replied the professor. “Anything I can do for you today?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve got to talk to you.” Then Beatrixe looked at Lisa. “Or you.” She paused. “Or someone here about something.”
“It was important.”
“Well? Out with it.” The professor sounded both impatient, yet resigned to the workings of the mad woman’s mind.
She thought for a moment. “Oh, yes! The mechanical dog won’t try to eat either of you anymore. Clinky kind of clicked her last.”
Lisa felt surprise and excitement building in her, and tried to suppress them. Canergak was out of town; this seemed the perfect opportunity to finally see what was in his lab. What… or, perhaps, who…
“Ah, very good,” Professor Vartanian said. “Well, it’s comforting, at least. Somewhat.” He smirked a little. “What happened to it?”
“Told to scrap her.” Beatrixe sighed a little.
“I suppose he’ll be replacing her?”
“I think so. I mean, you should see the stuff he’s been doing since we finished the construction on his lab. Which I’m not supposed to talk about.” Beatrixe looked a little sheepish. “Well, anyways, I’m going to miss Clinky. She was a good doggy.”
“Yes, I know how you liked… her,” Lisa said, trying to get past the woman and into the lift.
“I was wondering if I couldn’t build those steam-powered rotors out of her pieces. You know, the ones I was designing to cut trees?” Bea mused. “I’ll get back to you both as soon as I’m finished, and we can test it on someone’s limbs.” She nodded to herself, evidently approving of that plan, and stepped back into the elevator car. Lisa quickly followed her inside, saying, “I should go down, too.”
Professor Vartanian chuckled. “Keep your own digits safe in the meantime, Ms. Rouse. And Lisa, I’ll be in my office if you need anything.”
“Yes, sir,” Lisa replied as the gates closed.
Back on the main floor, she left Bea prattling to herself about rotors and wood, and hurried to leave her bucket in the kitchen. Heedless of who might be watching, or listening, she hurried out the front door to the gate, and sent out a loud caterwaul. It took only a moment for her brother Fourclaws to appear on the other side of the gate.
“Any sign of Strifeclaw?” she asked him.
“No, no sight or scent,” he replied.
She exclaimed to herself in frustration. She hadn’t counted on going in alone, but she couldn’t let this opportunity slip away. “I’m going into the Bad Doctor’s secret room,” she told Fourclaws. “If you don’t see or hear from me by the time…” She looked around, checking the position of the sun. “By the time the sun touches the waterfall building, find Fox-Boy and tell him I’m probably in trouble.” (‘Waterfall building’ was the Feline designation of Piermont Landing, and ‘Fox-Boy’ was, of course Tepic.)
“Are you sure you have to go in there?” Fourclaws asked. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Lisa sighed. “So do I, but I have to. Strifeclaw might be in there, and even if he isn’t… we need to know what’s happening in there.”
“All right.” Fourclaws butted her hard in the chest. “May you find luck dancing.”
Lisa took the words of the Feline blessing with her inside. She hurried to the elevator and took it down to the basement. Once there, she went straight to the irising door that led to the area of Canergak’s labs where she *was* allowed. She got out her keyring and unlocked the door, quickly stepping inside. Her eyes automatically went to the indicator thing that she was supposed to check whenever she came into this room. Today, though, she hurried past, making for the door in the back wall. Taking a breath to try to settle herself, she unlocked that door and stepped in.
She looked around curiously. She knew that the rooms down here had been reworked. Now she was in a short hallway, with one wall lined with bookshelves. Books were stacked on them, even spilling out onto the ground. She looked at a few, but couldn’t make heads or tails of the words in some of them–and others seemed to be written entirely in pictures. Shrugging, she turned away from them and slowly walked forward to the large open doors. She paused at the doorway, took another deep breath, and stepped forward into hell.
On her right, there was a tube containing some of the same tentacles she’d seen when the large thing from the ocean had attacked Mr. Footman’s observatory. They seemed to be writhing in pain, flinching back whenever they brushed against the glass. On the left was a chamber crackling with aetheric energy. Past that chamber was a table bristling with metal straps, and beyond that, a table filled with surgical tools, some of which she recognized as similar to what Dr. Martel had had in his lab. There were also specimen jars; one had a hand that twitched slightly, one held a brain, and one a raven – a live raven, but one that seemed unresponsive.
She quickly moved away from that table, feeling a little sick, and hurried past a large metal cylinder. Her eyes were caught by an upright cylinder beyond, one that glowed with a sickly yellow light. Inside…
She flinched back. Inside, floating in a sea of fluid and hooked up to several tubes, was one of the small ocean creatures that had been attacking the urchins – perhaps the same one that had escaped its captivity at the hands of Canergak. Skipping back away, her eyes were caught by another cylinder of yellow fluid. It, too, was occupied, and she stepped closer to see what was there.
“Beryl?” she gasped.
((To be continued… a lot…))