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March 15 – Lesson One Begins

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Lisa was scrubbing the floor of the entryway when the front door opened. She heard a mocking caw, and a shout from Professor Vartanian. “Shoo! Get out of here!” He slammed the door shut, muttering, “Blasted crows…” Seeing Lisa there, he continued, “They don’t come about bothering you, do they, Lisa?”

“No, sir,” she replied, glancing up from her work.

The professor glared at the door. “One had the gall this morning to snatch my toast right out of my hand after breakfast.”

Lisa bent her head back down, hiding her smile. Her brother Fourclaws had told her he’d warned the local crows about the poisoned meat Professor Vartanian had had her set out, so none of them had eaten it. He’d pointed out the professor to them, so they’d have a target for their mischief. Fourclaws had even warned the local rats, though with rather more limited success. They didn’t trust Fourclaws, and they weren’t nearly as intelligent as the crows. “Crows can be bold, sir,” she contented herself with saying.

The professor seemed to have noticed her amusement. “You’re free to smile, you know,” he said. “I’m not a cold-hearted wretch. I know when my own misfortune is entertaining to others.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, keeping her expression demure.

“I understand that Mr. Canergak wishes you to see his work properly,” he continued. “I’d like to have a better look at it myself.”

Lisa felt her face freeze. “I’m sure you would, sir.”

Professor Vartanian studied her. “You worry about what it is he does down there? Or more what he might do to someone you know? I would think this would be a good chance for you to discern for certain.”

She swallowed, and said with some emphasis, “I don’t doubt that, sir.”

“I can’t say I haven’t got my own worries to put to rest too, though,” he mused, staring past her. “Do you know if there’s any pie left in the kitchen from yesterday? I could use something sweet.”

“I believe there is, sir.”

“Mmm, good.” With that, he stepped around the damp area of the floor, heading toward the kitchen.

About ten minutes later, she heard the tapping of Canergak’s cane approaching. She stopped scrubbing and stood up. “Sir.”

“We are ready to begin our first experiment. I have procured the necessary…” He paused. “We have everything that we shall require.”

“Mr. Canergak.” Professor Vartanian spoke from behind her. “I was hoping that I might accompany as well. Perhaps it might offer her some small measure of security and I’d like to see your work for myself if that is feasible.”

“Yes, of course.” He eyed Lisa closely. “I did promise that someone would be present while she was educated.”

Lisa sucked in a breath, wanting to swear. It was supposed to be Dr. Maddox, or Miss Hienrichs–someone she trusted–not the professor. She tried to school her expression, though she was sure Canergak was aware of how she was feeling.

“You will need to get changed,” he continued. “That attire is unsuitable for what we shall undertake.”

“What… what should I wear?”

“I would suggest an outfit for moving about, that would not get stuck on anything. Join me downstairs when you are ready, both of you.” With that, he turned and went back toward the inner rooms. Lisa looked back at Professor Vartanian, trying to hide her resentment, and shoved the bucket over to the side with her foot, dropping the brush by it.

She went to the elevator and took it down to the basement, and the room she shared with the other maids. Opening the door of the small wardrobe she used, she stared at her few articles of clothing. She wasn’t sure her other maid’s uniform would be suitable, and she certainly didn’t want to wear her one grown-up dress. Finally, shrugging, she changed into her old urchin attire. She nearly didn’t fit into the shirt, but it seemed like it would work well enough for whatever Canergak might have planned.

She stepped outside the room and joined Professor Vartanian by the door to Canergak’s outer room. As the door opened to admit them, he looked down at her. “Well, it’s not a pair of trousers, but at least it’s not as billowy as your work skirts.”

“Yes,” Canergak added from inside. “That does not seem to vibrate as much.” They followed him through the door at the far end, though Lisa did so with obvious reluctance.

“Vibrate?” the professor asked.

“Her other outfit seemed to ‘flow’ and vibrate, I assume it was a gown of some kind or apron.”

Professor Vartanian nodded to Canergak as they stepped over the threshold of the laboratory. “Today’s test will be a simple one,” Canergak said. “But first, what do you see to my right?”

Lisa looked, and shivered a little. “The… tentacles I saw during the attack on Dr. Footman’s observatory.” The professor looked at her, then at the container, and nodded, adjusting his spectacles.

“Yes. But how do they grow on any surface? And could they grow on a person?”

“On a person?” Vartanian asked, startled.

“The answer is yes. I lost one of the specimens that way.”

The professor grimaced. “How far did it go?”

“It dissolved into tentacles and squid, much like Professor Moundshroud. I believe that in Moundshroud’s case, he invited it inside himself. His connection to the beast remained no matter where he was taken, even inside this facility.” As Lisa shuddered at the thought, he continued, “So the question then becomes… what do you suggest we do to the Deep Ones?”

“There are still some out there, then?” the professor asked.

“There are always more. Like cockroaches, only they wish to devour us.” Canergak leveled his gaze on Lisa. “Your thoughts.”

“Why… why not leave them alone, so they’ll leave us alone?”

“Did they leave us alone when first they attacked?”

“But they were summoned here, weren’t they, sir? I thought the strange fish-man did it.”

“And will he do so again?” Canergak raised an eyebrow. “From what I hear, this is not the first attempt.”

“So shouldn’t *he* be stopped?” That made perfect sense to Lisa–stop whoever was summoning them, and they wouldn’t show up anymore. Canergak, however, obviously didn’t agree. “And how did we stop him last time? By ‘asking’? By ‘leaving them alone’?” He shook his head. “We very nearly did not stop them. We *have* to study them. We have to see what hurts them, and yes, what kills them. They leave us no other recourse.”

Lisa still didn’t agree, and she was sure her expression showed that, for Canergak sighed. “Come.” He led them to the two metal cells nearby.

((To be continued…))

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