FULL SCALE INVASION, PART SIX: Tour Ism
Alijda pondered over their options. As much as she wanted to investigate City Hall, she knew that leaving Para and Kat alone presented too many risks to be worth it. Her life was one thing to gamble, but theirs was another matter entirely.
Going back to the station would give the Lilliputians ample time to cover up whatever it was that they were hiding. Although Larry’d been tight-lipped, he’d said just enough to ping as suspicious on her radar.
“We’ll go with the tour idea,” she decided. “We can eke out more information from Larry and the rest of his cohorts that way.”
“I’m more interested in what the DEO could be housing,” Kat said. They were bound to be storing worse things than fairy dust there. The items Larry had mentioned may have only been the tip of the iceberg.
“But, the shrinking—” Para tried.
Alijda cut her off. “We’re not leaving. Even if we wanted to, we can’t. They’re holding our communication devices hostage.”
“I’m still standing here. My ears work,” Larry reminded them. “Hostage is a poor choice of words, by the way. I’d call it collateral. We’re keeping your things until we’ve determined you’re trustworthy.”
“It seems like you’ve made up your mind already,” Alijda said.
“I’ve been more than gracious to you, especially after your little stunt with our coats.”
“Blowing fairy dust in our faces counts as gracious? Sorry, I couldn’t tell.”
“It does?” That was news to Para. She’d have to update her definitions.
“Do you mind showing us around the DEO?” Kat jumped in. He gave Larry a friendly smile. With Para being off in la la land and Alijda being… well, herself, he figured he was in the best position to charm him.
Larry’s mouth stayed flat. “Alright. I suppose I can do that.” He strode past them, to the door. “Follow me this way. I’ll take you to the archives. Perhaps this will make you lighten up.” He shot Alijda a pointed look.
“Lightening? I can explain the Boolean arithmetic for that!” Para exclaimed. “There’s an even simpler expression for lightening, though, but either works.”
“That’s not what he meant,” Kat clarified.
“Glad you think this situation is appropriate for a math lesson,” Alijda said, her bitter sarcasm continuing.
“Thank you!” Para missed it.
Larry cleared his throat for attention. “Can you step out of my office already? I need to lock it up.”
Kat, Para, and Alijda stepped out and off to the side. Larry took care of the door—another sign that he had something to hide, Alijda noted—and led them through the building. People were hunched over at their desks, clacking furiously on their typewriters. They looked up briefly to say Larry’s name as they passed. He grunted in acknowledgement. Kat overheard someone shouting for Johnson to get the McDougal files and a blacker than black pen.
“They’re serious about ink here, aren’t they?” Kat remarked.
“Signatures aren’t the same when they’re not in blacker than black ink,” Larry explained.
They reached a desk occupied by a familiar face: Shemp, one of the trench coats from earlier. He was missing said trench coat, his fedora propped next to his typewriter. “Larry, you sly dog. What are you doing with these three?”
Para whispered to Alijda, “why is his foot bouncing if he’s sitting down?” Shemp was the trench coat that had gotten hit with the friendly fire. Para wondered if the foot thumping was aftereffect of the fairy dust. If it was, then that was strange… Alijda and Kat didn’t seem any more fidgety than usual.
“They’re covering something up,” Alijda whispered back to her. Why were they making it so obvious, though? There had to be something more to all of this.
“Or he has Restless Leg Syndrome,” Kat joined in. Alijda’s paranoia wasn’t warranted. Plenty of people suffered from RLS. Even if this was a different dimension from where they were from, it was likely the Lilliputs had RLS sufferers in their midst, too.
“I’m giving them a brief glimpse of the archives,” Larry explained to Shemp, “but not of any of the areas someone would need level 2 clearance to see.”
“Ah, alright. Hey, you wouldn’t be able to tell me which color I should use for my business card, would you?” Shemp held up three color swatches. “Bone, egg shell, or pale nimbus?”
“They’re all white. Am I missing something?” Kat scratched his head. Larry and Shemp glared at him. Great, he probably lost a few points for that comment.
“I prefer the subtlety of ivory.” Larry flashed him his card. He stuffed it into his shirt pocket before Alijda could read it.
Shemp’s eyes widened. “Oh, I see.” He laid his color cards down. His foot quickened. “I have to get back to work. Remind Joe to drop my trench coat off at the cleaners if you see him.”
“Will do. See you later, Shemp.” Larry reached up to tip his fedora at him, but realized he wasn’t wearing it and lowered his hand awkwardly. He turned to Alijda, Kat, and Para. “C’mon, the archives are this way.”
He took them down a hallway, far removed from the office noise. Alijda made sure to memorize the path they took, in case things got hairy. They stopped in front of a door marked COLLECTIONS. Larry fished for his key ring.
“Why is it called that?” Para asked.
Alijda sighed. “Archives. Collections. It’s all the same. Will you stop asking so many questions?”
Having found the ring, Larry jingled it around to find the right key. Once he did, he pushed it into the lock. The door opened with a click. He held it open for them. “After you.”
They shuffled in. Larry closed the door behind them and made sure to lock it. When he caught Alijda looking at him funny, he said, “it’s DEO policy.”
“Locked doors and general shiftiness, yeah, I figured that,” she said.
Tall cabinets loomed before them, going from floor to ceiling. A ladder on wheels leaned against the wall. Labels and signs kept the maze of cabinets organized. The place reminded Kat of a library. It made him cringe to think that they were databasing their collections manually. Perhaps they should boot up that Macbook Pro and start an analog-to-digital conversion.
“You can stop glaring at me now,” Larry said to Alijda. “I don’t appreciate it.”
“Show me something from your collection. For all I know, you could be collecting beige cabinets.”
“They’re cream cabinets,” he corrected. He leaned down and pulled open one of the shelves. The trio peeked inside to see a folded basketball jersey. Larry held it up for them. “It’s from The Ulrich F. Gephardt Academy for Unruly Girls. Our planet doesn’t have a school called that.”
“Yeah, that’s a rather specific name,” Kat said. “I believe him.”
“I don’t.” Alijda shook her head. “Show us something else.”
“You’d think the fairy dust would’ve been enough. Fine,” Larry said. He re-folded the jersey and slid the drawer shut. “Take a look at this extradimensional object.” He walked them over to one labeled BELT, and pulled it open. “This is an artifact. It’s called a belt ornament. Whoever owned it kept it in impeccable condition.”
“Larry. You brought guests.” A woman came out from around the corner. Her glasses were pink crystal-studded. She wore an elaborate, high-collared Victorian dress that clashed with the true ’90s kid light-up shoes on her feet.
“Dutchessy, I didn’t know you’d be in the archives,” Larry said.
Dutchessy? She had to be one of Queeny’s people, Alijda thought to herself. She should’ve been someone that the DEO was trying to hide its operations from, if the royal naming trend was anything to go by.
Kat held out his hand. “Nice to meet you. Your shoes bring out your eyes.” Alijda rolled her eyes. Kat never passed up a moment.
Obviously, there was something strange about this woman, too. Judging by her outfit, her sitcky fingers were dipping into the archives like it was going out of style.
She might as well cut to the chase. “Are you one of Queeny’s people?” Alijda asked the woman.
Dutchessy stiffened. “I wouldn’t say that. We don’t see eye-to-eye on many things. How do you know Queeny?”
“Wait, I know this woman!” Para blurted out. “I know her voice. She was with them earlier when we were getting dumped off in this place, back when they took our blood.”
“They took our blood?” Kat clapped his hand over his arm. “Why would they do that?” He looked over at Larry and Dutchessy, and amended his words. “Why would you do that?”
“Para, why would you say that in front of everyone?!” Alijda screamed.
“I’m sorry!” Her bunny ears fell.
“We need your blood to know what price you’ll fetch for on the market. Certain materials sell for more. We do that for all the extradimensional objects that make it through here,” Dutchessy told them, as if all of that was common knowledge. She lifted her glasses. “Sweethearts, we’re black market traders. You’re standing in our trading hub.”
“Did she really just say that?” Kat took a step back. His eyes roamed the area, looking for something he could use to his advantage. A convenient candle happened to be in the corner.
“We’ve got a surveillance team monitoring this whole building. There’s no way for all three of you to escape,” Larry announced.
Dutchessy added, “and we’ve got things worse than fairy dust stored here. You haven’t seen half of what we’ve got in storage all over the DEO.”
“And I can teleport. I’ll stop you before you can try anything,” Alijda said. She wasn’t going to fall for the same trick twice.
“You’ll abandon your friends?” Dutchessy turned away to laugh. “You care too much about them to do that, otherwise you would’ve gotten yourself out of here a long time ago.”
Para’s bunny ears perked all the way up. “Wow, I thought you didn’t like me. Thanks, Alijda.”
“Yeah,” Alijda muttered. “This is not the time, but, yeah, I do like you.”
Kat glanced at the burning candle. Larry and Dutchessy were distracted. Their attentions were too focused on Alijda to notice what he was doing. If Kat timed this right, Alijda would be able to teleport out of there, get through the building, find their devices, and get in touch with Alice. What would happen to him and Para because of this, he wasn’t looking forward to finding out but he’d have to deal with that later. As long as Alijda made it out, things would be alright… mostly.
He focused in on the flame.
The room flashed. Larry and Dutchessy threw up their arms to shield themselves from the sudden heat.
It faded just in time for Kat to catch sight of a cloud of purple smoke. He grinned.
“Whoa!” Para rubbed her eyes because everyone else was, not because she needed to.
“What was that?” Larry’s head whipped back and forth. “What happened to my mother’s candle? I’ve had that lit for years!”
“Alijda’s gone, that’s what that was,” Kat said. He crossed his arms. “It’s only a matter of time before she contacts our headquarters and gets us out of here.”
“No, that’s not happening. I’m stuck in the wall,” Alijda called out. Her voice was understandably muffled.
Para held her hand over her mouth. “Her voice! It’s sounding smaller and smaller. She’s shrinking exponentially.”
Dutchessy, now recovered from the flashbang moment, clapped for them. “Good show, everyone. You made this too easy for us. Larry, tag ’em and price ’em.”
“That crazy not canon interlude you’ve just read is part of the Serial Fiction April Fool’s Day Swap, 2016 Edition. The mindblowing gag post above was written by Kaleidofish, who normally writes the story Redwood Crossing (at that website).
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