Time seemed frozen in the metal cell, as Lisa huddled in the corner. Her thoughts kept circling around and around, like a mouse trapped in the open, sensing the killing dive of a hawk or falcon. Memories of her captivity with Dr. Martel alternated with nightmarish imaginings of what Canergak might do to discover what Dr. Martel had done to her. Would he use some torturous machine on her? Or even kill and dissect her? She wouldn’t put any horror past him.
The muffled sounds of voices finally penetrated the terror that enwrapped Lisa. She raised her tear-streaked face sharply, then shakily got to her feet, wondering what was in store for her. Someone unlocked the door and swung it open. She shrank back at the sight of Canergak and Professor Vartanian, but then gasped at the sight of a third figure coming around the door, a figure that was familiar to her–the Militia officer, Miss Hienrichs. She stepped outside, hands raised in appeal. “Miss Bookworm! Please–please help me!”
“Lisa,” Professor Vartanian said sternly. “What on earth inspired you to come down here?”
“I–” She hesitated. She certainly couldn’t say she and Beryl had wanted to find out what Canergak was up to down here. “I thought *he* might have Beryl! I had to know…” She looked from the professor to Miss Bookworm, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Please… don’t leave me here…” she pleaded.
Miss Hienrichs reached out and put a hand on Lisa’s shoulder. “Calm down, Lisa,” she said soothingly.
Professor Vartanian glanced back at Canergak. “I’m fairly certain you won’t be left down here. Right, Mr. Canergak? But your behavior can’t just be let go.”
Canergak shrugged. “I have no desire to keep her in this area. My laboratory is for monsters… creatures I devote my life to fighting. Not young women, even if they are criminals, or insane. I leave those to you.”
“Wha–I am not insane!” Lisa glared at the administrator.
“Do you deny burning down the grocers at which you worked, or knowing Dr. Martel?”
Lisa closed her eyes. “I… I don’t remember,” she said intensely. “But I’m sure I’d never do such a thing!”
“This is not my call to make anymore, Professor, Miss Hienrichs,” said Canergak. “Though I should tell you that I did not search her…”
Miss Hienrichs turned her attention to Professor Vartanian. “There’s no reason to continue this questioning here, is there? Surely we can find someplace more… comfortable.”
The professor nodded. “Yes–we can use my office upstairs, if you like.” He led the way out of the lab and into the basement, where the elevator car was waiting. Lisa stuck as close as she could to Miss Hienrichs, shivering away from Canergak and the professor. She was so relieved to be out of that lab, she could hardly keep on her feet–her knees kept threatening to buckle. Surely Miss Bookworm would get her out of this place…
They rode the lift up to the top floor, and stepped forward into Professor Vartanian’s office. Lisa stopped, looking uncertainly from one to another.
“Go ahead and sit down, Lisa,” Miss Hienrichs said, indicating the upholstered chair in front of the professor’s desk. She also handed Lisa a handkerchief, which she used to scrub at her eyes and face. Miss Hienrichs took up a position behind and to one side of her, while Canergak stood by the fireplace.
“Now,” said Professor Vartanian, leaning against the desk, staring sternly down at her. “What made you think Mr. Canergak had Beryl down there?”
“Beryl’s disappeared–no one’s seen him for days. And I know *he* doesn’t much like Beryl.” Lisa shot a glare at Canergak.
“Thus making me suspect?” The administrator sounded faintly amused. “It would hardly be wise of me to try to detain him then.”
“He’s right,” the professor said firmly. “That’s no reason to cast aspersions.”
“I didn’t know what else to do.” Lisa looked down at the floor sulkily.
“You could have perhaps contacted Ms. Hienrichs about filing a missing persons report with the militia, could you not?”
She shrugged. “Beryl doesn’t trust the militia… begging your pardon, miss.” She looked over her shoulder at Bookworm.
Miss Hienrichs smiled a little, wryly. “I know that, Lisa.”
“Doesn’t trust them or doesn’t trust them to do their job?” The professor smirked a little.
“Both, I think. Especially if it involves him.”
“Thus his sticking his neck into trouble so often, as I’ve heard. And now you do the same.” Professor Vartanian shook his head. “I’d say he’s a bad influence on you, Lisa.”
Lisa felt an indignant reply bubbling up, but bit it back. Perhaps if she put on a show of acquiescence for them, it might help her. So she looked down at the floor again and said softly, “Perhaps, sir.”
“Well? Have you heard enough yet?” Miss Hienrichs asked. The professor nodded. “The question in my mind is what would be a fitting punishment.” He looked over at his employer.
“When I took her into my employ,” Canergak said slowly, “I endeavored to shape her mind and develop her away from criminal activities and desires. Educate her. My efforts have not been successful, but I would hate for them to be wasted in a mine.”
“She would be difficult to find a replacement for as well,” Professor Vartanian mused.
“You would suggest keeping her here, Professor?” Canergak sounded rather surprised. “I must say, that had not crossed my mind.”
Lisa stiffened, fear quickly gripping her again. Stay here, in their employ? Be subject to whatever treatment they decided to mete out to her? She hadn’t expected this!
“Only for our sake, not her own. I would suggest, at the least, a docking of her pay for a while.” He fixed Lisa with a stern look. “I don’t normally like the idea of mercy on such transgressions, but I can’t deny we do need someone of her sort here. The dedication to this kind of work she shows is hard to come by, especially in this city.”
“If…” Canergak said to himself. He was silent for a moment. “She would need to learn to abide by the law, correct, Miss Hienrichs?”
“Yes, she would…” Lisa heard Miss Hienrichs say slowly. She craned her head around and looked up at the woman, mute appeal in her eyes. Miss Hienrichs was looking down at her, her eyes shadowed.
“Probation,” Canergak said suddenly. “That is the word.”
Miss Hienrichs’ head snapped up at that, and she turned to Canergak. “If Lisa is on probation of a sort, she will need someone to supervise that probation,” she said briskly. “And, seeing as you have involved the Militia in this matter, I will take that task upon myself.”
“Very well,” said the professor.
“I can think of none better,” added Canergak. “This facility has needed someone who could take matters into their own hands for some time. As it is, even taking Lisa to task was… draining for me. Good evening, everyone. I wish to lay down for the moment.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the professor. “Perhaps we can talk later?”
Canergak nodded. “And take heed,” he said ominously, pausing for effect. “You must endeavor not to speak of the things you found down there. You don’t want the attention of the things they call master.” With that, he left the room.
Professor Vartanian grimaced and muttered, “No, I certainly don’t.”
“Indeed. How he managed to pull that off, I don’t know,” Miss Hienrichs said grimly. “I don’t *want* to know.” She shook her head, then said, “In the meantime, Professor, will you release Lisa to me for a while? I’d like to question her about this charge of arson.”
“Yes, of course, Ms. Hienrichs. And thank you for your cooperation today.”
She nodded, and looked down. “Please come with me, Lisa.”
Lisa, still wondering how it was she’d been pulled back into this nightmare, stood up, and let herself be ushered out of the office by Miss Hienrichs.
((To be continued…))