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Bookworm followed the asylum administrator into the short hallway that led to his underground lab. Before he continued into the lab, though, Canergak paused. “What questions do you have?”
Bookworm hesitated. Her most pressing question was about the heart in the machine, and whether Tepic might be right. But she didn’t want to lead off with that, so she asked the first thing that popped into her head. “What is it that makes Beryl–and the cat inside there–so different, and so much of interest to you?”
“I could show you if you would like. I hate to make claims without backing up my statements.” Bookworm nodded, and with that, he opened the door at the other end of the hallway, leading her into the circular room, and over to the tube containing the resting cat. A quick glance to the side showed her that the other tube was now empty.
“I will have to ask that you not stop the experiment, even if it does appear to be in pain.” As Canergak walked over to the tube’s controls, Bookworm hissed in a breath, realizing that she’d set in motion something she really wasn’t going to like. She watched in horror as Canergak pressed a button, sending electricity arcing about in the tube. The cat woke up and growled as the voltage entered its body, and scratched at the glass.
“Miss Hienrichs, I just filled this tube with enough voltage to stop a horse’s heart,” Canergak said as they watched the cat hiss at them both, still struggling against the restraints. “The creature has only become more angry. If it got loose, it would kill us that much faster.” He turned off the electricity, and the cat slowly settled down. “What is interesting is that it contains that energy for use later like a battery.”
“Use? What sort of use?”
“I believe it could use that energy as a weapon. To make sure it cannot use that to its advantage, I will drain it out later.” He turned around and walked to the control panel by the central chamber. “Over here, now. This is probably what the child saw, or that cat told you about years and years ago.”
Bookworm peered inside, both fascinated and revolted. She’d only caught a glimpse of it on her first visit, and now studied the arrangement of gears powered by the beating heart. “What… what is this for?”
“It is to keep my laboratory from being discovered.”
“By whom? And how?”
“By beings such as that creature’s master. It keeps out spirits and aetheric beasts, and shields their eyes. The only way to do that is to make this facility exist on their level. It works like a skin… and this is the heart.” With that, he activated the machine, sending cracklings of aetheric energy surging through the central chamber..
Bookworm gasped and fell back a few steps, turning pale. Her head was nearly split by the agony that seemed to emanate from the humming, buzzing machinery, before she could strengthen her mental shields enough to lessen the impact. As she struggled to recover, she saw that Canergak seemed to be completely unaffected. “And what… what manner of heart is that?” she finally managed to ask.
“One of these creatures. Any would do, but it did have to be something that isn’t mortal.” He turned off the machine, much to her relief.
“One of the Deep Ones?” she asked, confused.
“No, I have other specimens. I meant a monster like one of these.”
Bookworm frowned. “Specify, please. What type of ‘monster’?”
“A bird?” Could that, she wondered, be what Canergak thought the Cloud Angels were?
“Yes.” He peered at her closely. “Do you really need me to be completely specific? I am trying to protect you.”
“I can protect myself,” she replied firmly. “Please, be completely specific.”
Bookworm had been expecting any of several possibilities… but not that. She gaped at him. “A… phoenix? Those are real, too?”
“I hesitate to call them real,” Canergak replied, “any more than your fox friend.”
She rolled her eyes. “We can argue semantics another time,” she said impatiently. “You’re telling me that a phoenix… existed enough for you to get its heart?”
“Yes,” he replied simply. “At first I couldn’t dispose of the monster itself. But that was long ago.”
Bookworm whistled low, shaking her head. She made a mental note to research as much of the lore of the phoenix as she can, and soon.
“So you see,” the administrator continued, “what happens in here is not witnessed nor seen by our enemies. To their eyes, that see spirits, the building is merely alive, as solid to them as you or I to each other. Maybe they perceive flashes of a parasite inside from time to time, but that is all. The machine also protects me from attacks of that nature.”
Bookworm nodded slowly, trying to digest and understand everything he’d said. What had he meant by the building being alive? And she wondered, now, if Canergak might have altered his eyes to see the way he said these ‘monsters’ saw. “Well, it’s certainly… something,” she finally said.
“Speak your mind,” he said to her surprise. “There’s no one here to hear but us. I guard my tongue out there, but here you don’t need to fear some invisible force is watching and judging you.”
‘There are some things I’m definitely not going to say at this point,’ she thought with a sigh. There was too much to try to understand first, and she didn’t want to inadvertently give anything away to Canergak again. Finally, she said, “In a way, I can understand what you’re doing regarding the Deep Ones. The Effinghams, after all, keep calling them here, and putting the city in danger. But to have sought out and captured the cat, which had not, so far as I know, done anything… was that really necessary?”
He frowned. “It had certainly done something. Everything I keep down here I was called to deal with, except for the Deep Ones.” He nodded toward the cat as he moved to a door in the nearby wall and opened it, leading her into another room, this one filled with several metal cells. “It killed twelve men. In fact, I didn’t capture it. That was done in Germany, and I simply collected it.”
Bookworm looked around, studying the cells. She saw two that contained the fish creature and tentacles that she’d seen in the outer lab before. Then she saw a picture on one of the cells to her right and stepped closer, reading the plaque that described what was inside… and what had been done to contain it. She turned white, and said in a choked voice, “What about this one?”
“The fox? That one was tricky. It played games with the people who lived nearby often enough, but I was called because it was killing a family that saw its wedding–one by one, all that carried the family’s blood.”
“Wedding?” Bookworm was confused.
“They are a peculiar species,” he said dismissively. “It is not the same species as your own fox friend.”
That did not reassure her, and suddenly, she felt as if she couldn’t stand any more of this. She turned abruptly and left the room. Canergak followed, closing the door behind her. Taking several deep breaths to calm herself, she finally turned back and addressed the administrator. “Thank you for showing me these things. There is…. much to think about.”
“Miss Hienrichs,” he said, his voice freighted with warning, “if you do speak of these things, you will make yourself a target for retribution. If you think they won’t go through you to get to me, you are naive. Even if you cooperate, sometimes the rules and their ‘decorum’ requires they kill you, or worse, simply for knowing.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, wondering if he really believed that, or was simply trying to frighten her into silence. But then she smiled crookedly. “I’m already a target for several beings. I’d rather not add more. I will be… circumspect.”
Canergak nodded. “I will see you out, then.” He led the way out of the lab and back up to the main entrance. “Good day, Miss Hienrichs.”
She’d looked around a little while following the administrator, but she’d not seen Lisa, so she merely replied, “Good day, sir,” and stepped outside into a sun that felt warm even through the smog, though the air was still chilly. On her way through the courtyard, she turned around once to look at the building. As she stared, a shiver went up her spine, and she quickly turned away again, ready to go home and scour her books on mythology.