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Lisa hauled a heavy sack of trash to the front door, ready to take it out to the front gate to leave it for the rag-and-bone man. She opened the door and reached down for the sack, but was arrested in her action, instead staring surprised at the sight of Dr. Maddox Lionheart coming up the walkway. Dr. Lionheart saw her standing in the doorway. “Lisa!” she called and quickly closed the distance between them, sweeping her up in a hug for a moment before setting her out at arm’s length again. “My dear… how big you are!”
Lisa looked up at the woman shyly. “It’s… it’s been quite a while.”
“Have I… have I really been gone that long?” Dr. Maddox asked, as Miss Hienrichs and Wisp entered the asylum, shutting the door behind them. She took Lisa’s hands in her own. “Please forgive me–I did not mean to leave you at the old buzzard’s mercy for that long.”
“I know,” Lisa replied, giving the woman a wan smile.
The doctor frowned down at her. “Has he harmed you?” she asked.
“Not… not directly…” Lisa wasn’t sure how to put it. That, however, seemed to be the wrong way, as the doctor said sternly, “What has he done to you? I will not allow it to go unpunished.”
Lisa removed one of her hands from the doctor’s grasp, holding it up in a forestalling gesture. “No–no, you must let it go. He’ll tell everyone, otherwise.”
“Tell?” Dr. Maddox asked in a mixture of confusion and irritation. “Tell what? He shouldn’t be allowed to harm you, child. I promised I wouldn’t allow it.”
Lisa looked up at Miss Bookworm, wondering if she should tell Dr. Lionheart. The militia woman seemed to understand her dilemma, and shrugged, indicating that the decision was up to her. She sank down on the bench by the wall. “Dr. Maddox… I’m… I’m not entirely what I appear to be.”
The doctor sat down beside her. “Please… tell me. There is nothing you can tell me that will change the way I think of you, dearling. I promise.”
Lisa took a steadying breath. “This body is human, but my brain… my spirit… came from a cat’s body.”
Dr. Maddox’s expression changed not a whit. “Oh my darling… is that all? Is that what you’ve been worrying yourself over? You’re still our Lisa.”
“I’ve been afraid to tell people–adults,” she continued, tears standing in her eyes, “because I’m so afraid that if they know that the man who did this was successful, others would want to do the same. More of my Folk–and yours–might die. They might even want to study me…”
The doctor’s mouth compressed into a line. “I will never allow more harm to come to you, my darling. Not even that old bastard who employs us. I would die first.”
Lisa’s eyes flicked to Miss Bookworm and back again. “Canergak has found out about me. He said he’d tell the world… if I didn’t behave. So I don’t *dare* tell you everything.”
“Let’s just say Lisa did some snooping where she shouldn’t have, and was caught,” Miss Hienrichs added.
“He… he said what?” Dr. Lionheart rose abruptly from the bench, her eyes narrowing. “I… I want to know. I want to know what he has done.”
“I know rather a lot, too, but he was rather adamant that we not tell,” Miss Bookworm replied with reluctance.
“So you know as well?” Dr. Lionheart’s face was beginning to redden. “Am I the only person in this place that knows nothing?”
“How much do you know about Canergak’s… areas of study?”
The doctor snorted. “I know he’s an evil little toad who treats those with gifts as though they were test animals. I can only assume he’s killed before, and I sincerely hope that he has not done so here, or I will have something severely wrong with him. More than I normally do, that is.”
“Yes, well, his issue seems to be with those he deems as ‘monsters.’ Which, apparently, means those who aren’t mortal–at least, not the way we are.”
“Even that tiny man is not as mortal as he seems,” the doctor replied, her lip curling a bit. “I am fully confident of that.” Her right hand starts to flex, as though her palm itches.
Lisa, listening to the two women talk, caught the faint but definite sounds of the elevator rattling to a halt on their floor. “Someone’s coming,” she hissed.
Dr. Maddox nearly hissed herself as she whipped around to stare at the door leading to the inner rooms. The muffled tapping of a cane against the tile floor came through the closed door for a second or two, before the door opened and Canergak stepped out into the hall. Lisa gulped and scrambled to her feet. “Sir.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Wisp duck behind Miss Hienrichs.
Canergak, for the moment, ignored her, his attention on the two women. “Dr. Lionheart. Lieutenant Hienrichs. Have I interrupted something?”
“Canergak,” Dr. Maddox replied politely enough, though her hands were clenched at her sides.
“I’ve been telling Dr. Maddox about Beryl’s disappearance,” Miss Bookworm said quickly. “We were hoping Lisa might be able to tell us something.”
“I see.” Canergak turned his gaze to Lisa, though he continued to address Miss Bookworm. “I wanted to let Lisa know that I have chosen the experiment we will conduct together later.”
Lisa felt herself go pale. “Ye–yes, sir,” she replied, seeing Miss Hienrichs look sharply from Canergak to her, and back again.
“Perhaps you’d like an adult to help you conduct an experiment, not a girl. What help can she be?” Dr. Maddox asked.
“She would be little help without proper training,” Canergak replied, as if that was something obvious. “That is why I have chosen something simple. You would have done the same in school to a frog.”
“Nothing dangerous, I would hope. She is a bit young.” Lisa could hear repressed anger in Dr. Maddox’s voice.
“Of course not. I won’t let her near the experiments that would eat her without a few more months of training.”
“Eat. Her?” There was a definite growl in the doctor’s voice now.
“You disapprove?” This question from Canergak pushed Dr. Maddox to her limit. “What could you possibly have been doing in this asylum other than helping our patients?” she asked indignantly. “I have not been gone that long. What in the world is this place, if not a place of healing?”
“That is a good question, and one that I would show you when you were ready.”
“Ready? What could I possibly have to be ready for? This is not a personal playground. This is a hospital!”
Miss Hienrichs, biting her lip, stepped to Dr. Maddox’s side and said softly, “I don’t know that this is the time, doctor.” Her warning went unheeded, though, as the two continued to spar.
“Tell me,” Canergak asked, “how many other asylums have you visited?”
“I have visited many with my father. Very many.”
“As have I. I went to New York and visited the Inebriate asylum. And I visited a women’s institution. Even I could tell they were breaking while sitting in their cells. Do you know what I did?”
“No. Do I want to know?”
“I tried to get them transferred here to Dr. Solsen’s care, to then be worked into a release program.”
That statement brought Dr. Maddox up short. “My father is a wonderful counselor,” she finally said, though with some reluctance. “That is a good thing.”
“I have done many good things, and the work I do downstairs in my office, to me, is good work.”
“That would be in the eye of the beholder, I assume.”
“I believe that yes, one has to see my world before they judge it.” Canergak’s gaze shifted to Lisa again, seeming to pin her down. “Lisa wished to see that world. Now she will partake in it.”
((To be continued…))