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Two if by sea, three if by…

  Beryl distanced herself from the group, curling up by the exit near Professor Rance. Wright and Book stood behind the desk while Blossom and the inebriated Loki helped themselves to apples.  Russell waited with crossed arms, looking bitter and hostile after the argument he had with Mr. Wright.  

  The feline thought that it would be a miracle if this ragtag group allowed the Professor a chance to tell his story.  It was a surprise when Quinn wasted little time explaining their situation once the urchins had apples in hand.  

   “The monst-” The scientist turned to Loki briefly before starting over. “The creature known as Itsy has taken several hostages.”

   Loki screeched and let out a loud obscenity, his hand quickly reaching for another brownie in his back pocket.  Wright growled low as he turned to Book, who was quick to ask for more information, “Who are the hostages?”

  “Several unknown students and staff, including Doctor Westbridge and Miss Ironside.  Also the assassin that tried to kill Westbridge.”

  “Wait, what?!”  Wright shouted as he blinked in surprise, baring his teeth.  Blossom let out an exclamation of excited surprise.  

  “It wornt ‘er oi tellya!”  Loki shouted in response over the Professor.  “She ain’ go’ no reesun te do it!”

  Bookworm moved to the front holding up a calming hand.  When the room quieted slightly she turned back to Quinn, “Start at the beginning, please.”  

  “It’s been a rough situation that’s gotten dangerous quickly.  The assassination attempt was several weeks ago.  Itsy captured the man who was attempting to kill Doctor Westbridge, but then refused to hand him over to authorities for questioning.  Afterwards, several more students and faculty went missing.

   “So!?” Loki shouted waving off the Professors implication.   “Poiple a’ways go missin!  Ain’ nuffin new aroun’ ‘ere!”

   The Professor did not turn to answer Loki, instead focusing his answer on Bookworm as he responded, “Disappearances occur here every day, but around Aquila III things are different.  People do not go missing on the small island without explanation.” He paused and waited for the Captain to nod before continuing.  “As an entity whose existence has been called an abomination, most called to fire bomb her sanctuary.  However, with the identity of the assassin unknown they did not want to do that.  With Dr. Westbridge taken…”

  The Professor stopped talking leaving it to the imaginations of the audience.  Beryl imagined that with Dr. Westbridge indisposed the Dean’s would proceed with the air strikes to save the rest of the island.  Itsy and her hostages time were both running out.  

   Judging from his friends reactions she doubted most of them understood the possibility.  Loki muttered under his breath, “You’re an abomination..”

   Quinn continued, “Doctor Westbridge and Miss Ironside have not returned for several days.  They are assuming the worst.”

   “Le’ me talk to ‘er!”  Loki cried out as he ran up to the counter.  “She knows me!”

   “Where is this happening?”  Bookworm asked, her depressed expression more pronounced than at her home.  Beryl remembered hearing Book’s arm had been shot recently, but though she was favoring one arm this seemed more than that.

    “Aquilla III,” the Professor replied.  

    The Captain’s grim expression soured even more as Beryl watched her.  Memories of their previous trip to an Aquila station were harrowing, but the station was also outside Babbage jurisdiction.  

   The Professor reached for a telegram and offered it to the Captain hastily with his metallic appendages, “I called you here because they are requesting anyone with knowledge of Itsy to help resolve the situation, and they mentioned you by name.”  

   “I doubt Itsy would welcome my intervention,” Bookworm frowned even more deeply than before, Beryl wondered if it would get stuck like that if it got any worse, as she accepted the paper.  Her last talk with the spider had gone poorly.

    Loki brightened as his tail swished back and forth, “She dun loive in moi cave!  ‘Elped me star’ a biznes!  She dun ‘ave a bad rap is all!”  

    “I talked to her before too.  She sounded nice.” Blossom said as she gripped her chin suspiciously.  “Almost too nice.”

    The Professor held up a hand to the urchins, “Considering the danger I would hesitate to send children into the spiders nest.”

    Loki snarled and then spit at the Professor.  The conversation paused as Quinn looked down at the spittle dripping down his jacket.  Rather than respond he reached for a handkerchief to clean it while Loki shouted, “Firs’ off oi kin ‘help!  Ask Beryl!  Oi been wif Sir Wright, tha proffessa, mista Russ and Beryl and tha Cap!  They aw know me sir!  Oi awta-”  

    What he ought to do was left unsaid as he started to pace and look for another brownie in his pockets.  Blossom was quick to point out she could help too having spoken with Itsy before, but Wright was quick to intervene, “Loki could probably be of some use, but Miss Blossom would only be a liability.”

    Professor Quinn glanced between the two children while Book continued to read the letter, then turned to Professor Rance,  “What is your medical and academic evaluation of this situation? In particular what motivates Itsy and the idea of sending in children and more potential hostages to speak with her.”

    The Professor tipped his glasses, having been silent until this point.  Clearing his throat he spoke quietly, “As I understand it, some of these people here have a short, but successful history with the spider, don’t they? While it may be a risk I would say it is a well calculated one. It’s not without a chance of success and perhaps even by a large margin.  They might just be able to reason with her, or at least get out of there with information on what she is doing.”

   Captain Russell cleared his throat loudly to draw their attention to him.  “I’m not sure about most of what is going on, but I can transport people there in my ship.”

   Russell turned and grinned at Beryl, who narrowed her eyes at him.  Until now she had been listening to the conversation with curiosity, but never with personal interest.  The mention of traveling by Russell’s airship might rule out her going on this journey.  She turned to Quinn, “Yes, how would they be traveling to the station?”

    “You can go by airship if you like but it’s a long flight and the hostages…not all her victims lived according to my notes.”  Quinn responded with a severity that hushed those around him. Bookworm nodded in agreement remembering the autopsies where the spiders had been found living inside the cadavers. “I believe it would be best to use an established portal route to travel directly to Aquilla III.”

    Wright and Russell agreed that the portal route would be the fastest, the airship captain musing that he’d never tried it before.  Beryl shook her  head firmly ignoring the others as she got up stretching.  “Very well, but if you’re going by way of portal then I am not coming with you.  Me and machinery do not get along.”

   She heard Loki’s immediate protests and some others trying to convince her not to abandon them, but she ignored them.  She opened the door and ran into the streets, an October overcast shadowing the streets even more than usual. The familiar did not feel she was violating her oaths as she left them to sort this mess themselves.  Book would be there and Wright, and if anyone wanted to kick a hornets nest it was best to distance yourself and allow them to learn their lesson.

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