mrcreek: Rana palustris, the pickerel frog (Default)
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What? What? Did you see that coming? I didn't see that coming. I literally did not see that coming. How are they going to deal with that? Does this plot even make sense any more? Who's writing this thing?

The molecules are restless, and we're in for a wild ride. By the way, if you thought that last chapter ended on a cliffhanger, you should check out this one.

(Previous chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

(2443 words)

Chapter 8


"What?" exclaimed Henrietta and I simultaneously.

"You went behind my back," Fred shot at Petrosky, livid but holding her temper.

"You're Montgomery?" cried Henrietta. "You? This whole time? You?"

"You can't pretend you didn't know what was happening, sir," said Petrosky with the shameless sneer of a con artist.

"Not to be talking back to him," the guard scolded Petrosky. From his voice, I recognized him as the guard who had confronted Fred the night before.

"Doesn't anyone else see that she's not a man?" I asked.

Henrietta charged Fred in a rage, looking like she intended to tear her limb from limb. The guard seized Henry before she reached his employer and locked her arms behind her back with his strong hands. Henrietta continued to struggle and shout. "You filthy liar! We trusted you!" She sent globs of mud flying as she kicked the damp ground.

"And I didn't betray your trust, did I?" responded Fred. "I helped you all the way. I funded the construction of the Locust, I worked as hard as everyone else. You wouldn't be here if it weren't for me."

"Sir, if I may ask, what have you been up to?" asked Petrosky. "You're playing a long game that I don't quite grasp."

"Let me go!" shouted Henry.

"Excuse me," I whispered the guard. "Do you really think she's a man?"

"Well let me break it down for you then," retorted Fred to Petrosky, her voice beginning to rise. "I was under the impression that I had a trustworthy executive by the name of Petrosky. One who wouldn't, say, start murdering our competitors in my name."

"Please," groaned Petrosky sarcastically. "The whole city knew this was happening. You must have heard the rumors. Your silence was tacit approval for my methods. You're just as guilty as I am."

The guard glanced at Fred to make sure she was focused entirely on Petrosky. "Ourselves all knowing she a sister," he replied under his breath, ignoring Henrietta, "but she our boss. Ourselves, calling her what she wanting be called. Myself, guessing she some kind of she-male. Fancies sisters as a man do."

"I hear a lot of rumors," Fred told Petrosky. "People always say nasty things about those who are more successful than they are. It usually doesn't mean anything. You denied everything."

Petrosky groaned again and rolled his eyes. "It was a 'wink-wink, nudge-nudge' sort of denial. 'No, I'm not killing anyone.' Of course that means yes I am."

"So last night..." I began, trying to keep the guard's attention.

"It dawning myself that she Montgomery," he said, "but myself, guessing she come there with some other sister for pleasure action. Myself, leaving her be."

"Why don't you leave me be?" yelled Henry.

"So I realized this undercover network can gather better intelligence on the workings of my own company than I can," continued Fred. "And I also began to suspect you didn't design the triph synthesizers as you told me. You were oddly silent when I asked you to suggest ways to strengthen them against the increasing proton pressure we've been seeing. So I wanted to find the real inventor. A resistance group was the best place to look, since who else would have the fiercest vendetta against us?"

"You shouldn't believe every rumor you hear," chuckled Petrosky, directly contradicting his previous line of argument. "Of course I invented the triph synthesizer. We founded the company when I brought you the sequence."

"No, this man's wife invented it," Fred said, pointing to me. "And you murdered her for it."

"What?" I screamed. "How do you know..."

"She signed her name in the sequence. There's no way it's in there by chance." Fred's eyes tore into Petrosky. "And now that I know your M.O., it's clear that you needed to silence her to take the credit. Just as you've been silencing anyone else who poses a threat to our business."

I had no more than begun to lunge for Petrosky with a primal anger when the guard grabbed my collar and then my throat, holding me around the neck with one hand while he continued to restrain Henrietta with the other.

"You hired me to make this company successful," Petrosky countered. "You didn't say how, you said to make it successful no matter what. Did you want to fail? Did you want to lose everything we put into it?"

"You will fly me back to headquarters," commanded Fred firmly. "Then we will discuss your future. It's not going to be bright."

Petrosky had no more to say. Silently, he climbed onto the front of the rotorcraft.

Fred turned to Henrietta and me. "Comrades, I'm sorry," she said awkwardly. "I couldn't tell you who I was because, well, because you'd react exactly as you just have. So, goodbye, I guess. You can keep the Locust and the triph synthesizer we just built. Actually, Wilkins, you probably have a partial legal claim to it anyway. If you want any compensation, you can send me a note and we'll figure something out. You all just keep doing your thing, it's fine, I don't mind. You're not seriously a threat to us, since we've had such a head start. Oh, and don't worry about the train tracks, either, I'll have someone fix them before we use them again." She paused, unsure of what else to say. "Good luck?" she tried weakly. Mildly embarrassed, she followed Petrosky and sat beside him, eying him sideways the way one would look at a dead rat sharing one's privy. Petrosky pulled a chain and one of the great blades began to turn. It moved slowly at first, but continued to accelerate until the machine started to lift off the ground. When it was a few feet in the air, Fred called, "Come, Emmett." The guard suddenly dropped Henrietta and me and jumped to clutch a handing loop of chain near the rear of the machine. He scrambled over the surface of the globular bird to join Fred and Petrosky in the front as the machine lifted higher and higher and began to fly toward the top of Mt. Thylacoma.

Henry and I watched it in stunned silence for a few moments while the rain fell on us.

"He's going to kill her," I said, finally.

"Good," said Henrietta, "I'm glad someone is."

"No, I'm serious," I replied. "He's going to kill her. Look at his options. He could return to the factory with her and then lose his job and probably go to jail. He doesn't want to spend the rest of his life inside a cell. His other choice is to kill her now and bribe the guard to stay silent. Then he tells everyone how she died fighting off a gang of saboteurs called the Vispiliase, and he crowns himself king of Montgomery Enterprises."

"Well, then he'll be the next one we go after," said Henrietta.

"No, listen to me!" I insisted. "This is Fred, this is our friend! Who cares if she's really Montgomery? We only thought Montgomery was responsible for all of this brutality, but it was Petrosky all along. He's the villain."

"We have resolved to bring down Montgomery," said Henry. "You clearly don't understand the purpose of the Vispiliase. And if I was wrong to trust Bacon this whole time, I definitely shouldn't be trusting you. Is she paying you, or what?" She glared at me with a threatening gaze that made me take a step backward.

At that moment, we heard a distant boing! The Locust was bounding back up the slope toward us. Unwilling to speak to each other any longer, we waited in silence for the minute or so the Locust took to arrive.

"Is the motor ready?" asked Wilhelm eagerly from atop his creation.

Henrietta and I raced each other to explain the situation first, resulting in a barely coherent jumble of phrases: "Fred is really Montgomery went with Petrosky dropped antibodies are searching for the synthesizer from a flying machine nearly killed Henry but Fred stopped him killed my wife is really Montgomery is going to kill Fred!"

Gao's face became wrinkled with worry, but as always he refrained from panicking. He look up toward the top of the mountain, where the rotorcraft was still visible through the rain. He seemed to have absorbed all of the pertinent details from our swarm of words.

"Colonel, you think we should save her?" Gao asked me.

"Yes," I called up to him.

"And you wish her dead?" he asked his partner.

"Yes," she replied.

"But you both agree we should pursue them?"

We paused and looked at each other. "Yes," we said in unison.

"Then there's no time to lose," said Gao. "Wilhelm." Wilhelm lowered the head of the Locust so that we could board. Seconds later, we were climbing the mountain, chasing the machine that was headed up and over the crater to return to the factory as fast as possible.

As we climbed, the air became thinner and the temperature dropped. The wind picked up. The rain grew colder and then turned into falling snow blowing about our heads. The ground was already covered with snow which hindered the Locust's leaps somewhat. The globular hummingbird in front of us was also having trouble in the frigid air. The blades weren't turning quite as quickly, and the wind was buffeting the machine left and right.

"Jump!" shouted Wilhelm to the Locust, his voice nearly muted by the whipping wind. "Jump! She keeps sinking into the snow. She doesn't have the power she has on solid ground!" It wasn't just the snow. The zwitter chains and the triph nuggets were chilling rapidly, and everything was slower and less flexible in the cold.

"They're going to get away!" yelled Henry.

"No, they're making even less progress than we are," Gao replied. It was true. We were gradually closing in one them. The flying machine was floundering in the snowstorm. It was difficult to see what was going on through the spiraling flakes, but the people on it seemed to be struggling with each other. They were shoving and jostling. Suddenly, a figure was seen dangling from the base of the craft.

"He's going to drop Fred over the edge!" I shouted. "Get up there and stop him!"

"I'm trying!" yelled Wilhelm. He pulled one the control chains with all of his weight. I could smell triph firing. The Locust lurched and bounded clumsily up the slope like a toddler sloshing through mud. Then it stopped. We had landed in a deep snowdrift from which the Locust could not free itself.

The hummingbird dipped and weaved chaotically above of us. The hanging figure, who I assumed was Fred, swayed like a chandelier in an earthquake. Then the figure let go. The momentum of the fluttering machine meant that it did not fall straight down, but instead sailed off in a majestic parabola away from the crater and straight toward us.

"Catch her," commanded Gao. Wilhelm heaved the Locust's chains, and with a groan the great jumping machine shot out of drift in the most directly vertical leap we had yet experienced. At the apex of our ascent we met the falling body. Gao leaned out and bearhugged the body out of the air, then fell backward into the seating cleft of the Locust.

It was Petrosky. Everyone stared at each other in surprise for a second, then Henry and I dogpiled on top of the two embracing men, pinning Petrosky firmly to the floor. By the time this had happened, the Locust had landed once again and sunk deeply into the snow. Wilhelm pulled on the chains but the machine would not move.

Above us, the rotating blades of the flying machine faltered and stuttered as they froze. The machine started to descend jerkily.

"How does it fly?" Wilhelm asked Petrosky excitedly, oblivious to anything but the feats of engineering around him. "Do the blades produce a field of static charge, or is it based on air pressure? And if so..."

"Could you forget your zwitter fetish for two seconds?" interrupted Henry. "He needs to confess his crimes now, all of them, or we dispose of him right here."

Petrosky moaned from under the pile of people.

"No," I said, "we need to ask him about the proton pressure. Fred said it's been increasing, and it's higher now than she expected. Which means the original triph synthesizers were not installed under the intense flow we experienced this morning. Which means the hole we're digging now might not be possible to control."

Petrosky moaned again.

"So?" asked Henry.

"My point is..." I began.

"Watch out!" shouted Gao. We all looked up. The hummingbird had stalled and skidded onto the slope. It was now skiing downhill straight toward us. Snow billowed into the air behind it as it accelerated. Fred and the guard, Emmett, were screaming but their voices were lost to the wind and the swooshing sound of zwitters sliding along the snow. They would collide with the Locust in a matter of seconds.

At that moment, or rather, several moments prior, something happened farther down the slope where we had spent the afternoon. No one was present to witness it, but the incident was later reconstructed by the survivors from the available facts. It involved one of the antibodies which had been wandering the woods ever since Petrosky had dropped them. We don't know if it was the same antibody Henry had battled, which somehow had worked its way back uphill, or one of the others which had made its way to our gully. Either way, the antibody found our triph synthesizer. It matched the bumps and clefts of the motor with its jaws, triggering a structural alteration among its chains. The explosives attached to it ignited. The triph synthesizer, of course, was sitting in the pit over a thin crust of solid lava. The blast was sufficient to crack the rock at the base of the pit, and proton acid began to spurt out. Hardened lava is brittle, and the crack easily grew as the crust crumbled. More and more lava escaped. Unlike the reinforced tunnel we had unplugged earlier at the factory, this hole had nothing to stop it from spreading. The crack sliced up the slope toward the crater, gaping like a gargantuan wound hemorrhaging orange proton blood from a pressurized artery. Lava arced into the clouds as the volcano opened itself to the sky.

Fifty-odd miles away in Queen City, children playing in the streets stopped and stared toward the southeast. Years later, they would tell their grandchildren that they had witnessed the great Eruption of Mt. Thylacoma.
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