Sunday, 28 March 2010

Episode 33

“No, no, no, old sock, your nose needs to be bigger. Think of a squashed potato.”

Harold sighed. They’d been at this for what seemed like hours. Mercury, Prada, India and Othello had all departed for the night, leaving demon and monkey alone at Aunt Aggie’s – alone, that is, apart from a dozen or so OGS agents. To pass the time, Teatime had suggested that Harold should practise shape-shifting, a skill that all demons possessed but one which Harold had neglected over the years. He was, under Teatime’s critical eye, currently attempting to impersonate Agent Mercury. He’d got the eye colour fairly quickly and the rough shape of the face, but the finer details were proving difficult.

There came a knock on the door. Harold quickly allowed his usual form to snap back into place as the door opened and a young OGS agent entered the room bearing a pizza box and some cans of drink.
“Agent Mercury told me to get you some food,” he said, setting his burden down on the table, “They were all out of kittens, so I got pepperoni, hope it’s OK.” He let out a kind of high-pitched nervous giggle.

Harold was puzzled for a moment, kittens? Then he remembered: this was the young agent he had teased that morning. He laughed, “Very funny, agent -?”

“Moon,” replied the young man, “Agent Moon.”

“Well Moon-agent-moon, fancy sharing some of this pizza?”

Moon glanced at the door, “I’m not sure I should be hanging around in here. Agent India said –“

“Oh, come on,” interrupted Harold, “Where’s the harm in having a slice of pizza. Besides, wouldn’t it good experience for you in your career? Not many of you get the chance to study the enemy up close, now do they. I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.”

Moon pursed his lips, “I suppose I could stay for a short while.”


After the cool comfort of the car’s air-conditioning, the desert heat was an almost solid thing.

“So where’s this church then?” said Prada, slipping on an expensive pair of sunglasses.

“There.” Mercury pointed.

Just off the highway, Reverend Box’s “church” squatted, apparently deserted. It was a single-story structure built of wood the colour of bleached bone. It looked like it had once been used as some kind of large storage shed, although what on earth anyone would have wanted to store out here was anybody’s guess. On the side facing them some words had once been painted but these were now too faded to make out.

“Not exactly Notre Dame, is it?” murmured Teatime.

They trudged around the outside of the structure, looking for a way in. Eventually, they came across a metal door. Agent Mercury reached out to grasp the handle.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. This time of day, that handle gets pretty warm” Came a voice from behind them. They turned to see a little brown goblin of a man with a completely bald knobbly head, wearing a kindly smile on his sun-weathered face – and nothing else. Prada stifled a giggle while India immediately discovered that her shoes were possibly the most fascinating objects yet created.

“Aw, now you didn’t say anything about bringing female people with you,” Box complained, walking towards the group. “And,” he stopped directly in front of Harold and looked up at him, eyes narrowed, “Neither did you say you were bring a Fallen! You do know you have a demon tagging along with you, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes, we do.” Replied Mercury, “He’s working with us on something, don’t mind him.”

“Huh!” snorted Box, as he beckoned the group to follow him round the side of the building, “OGS working with Fallen now, and they say I’m mad.”

Round the back of the “church”, out of sight of the road, was a deep square hole in the ground about three feet on a side. When they reached it, they found a metal ladder descending into darkness. Box immediately started to climb down, agile as a spider.

“Well, come on,” he called, when he realised they were not instantly following him. “You can’t stay out here, Apollo’s pretty mean this time of day.”

Exchanging quizzical glances, the agents and Harold followed Box down into the dark.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Episode 32

"Dysprosium, Sodium and Molybdenum, are you sure?" said Othello, raising a quizzical eyebrow at Prada and Harold.

"Absolutely," declared Prada, "OK, there were other hits for the numbers, but when you add in the chemistry book, this has to be it."

"Well, it could be, I guess." acknowledged Othello, "I haven't found anything even remotely pertinent on Emerald's computer, so maybe this is the direction he wants us to go in. Sodium and Molybdenum, I've heard of but Dysprosium?"

"Should we google them too?" Asked Harold, brightly. He had been mightily impressed with this instant knowledge-giver and was keen to see it in action again.

"We could," said Othello, "but, I'm thinking the answer might be in front of us." He picked up the chemistry textbook from Emerald's apartment.

"Now, let's see..." He flipped open the book and turned to the inevitable reproduction of the Periodic Table of the Elements. The others leaned in to get a good look at what he was doing. With the combined stares of several people boring into him, Othello ran his eyes over the chart, looking for the three elements. Maybe Emerald had written something or left some other clue. The page, however, was as clean as the day the book was printed.

"Nothing here," murmured Othello, and began to turn the page.

"Wait a minute!" said Teatime, excitedly. "Go back to the chart." Othello did so.

"Look at the chemical names for those three elements!"

"Dy, Na, Mo!" breathed Othello, "Well I'll be.."

"Dynamo?" asked India, who had mentally been wishing Harold back to the Basement as hard as she could ever since he had entered the room and – just to be annoying – had deliberately stood right next to her.

"Does that mean something to you?" asked Prada.

"It's the name of an OGS project that was discontinued years ago."

"What was the project about?"

"That I don't exactly know, but I think I know someone who does."


"This is Peck," the Private Investigator's smooth voice reeked of culture and a private education.

"Go on." Mr Teeth had had a long day and had just exhausted himself at the gym. His skin still tingled from the pounding the masseur had inflicted upon it, but he was wide awake now and his attention was riveted to the telephone.

"My associates have traced the vehicle your boy was seen getting into. It belongs to a company called "Aunt Aggie's."
"Aunt Aggie's?"

"Yes, they used to make cheesecake apparently. Used to – the company no longer exists."

"And yet they own a car?"

"Apparently so."

"Did you get an address?"

"Naturally." The temperature of Peck's voice dropped a few degrees at this slightest of hints that he had been less than completely efficient.
"Let me get a pen."

When the call was over, Mr Teeth stared thoughtfully at the slip of paper containing his barely legible scrawl. He could send Peck over there, he supposed, but he was curious now. Aunt Aggie's must be a front, but for what? It would be very interesting to find out. He yawned suddenly. Whatever it was, though, would have to wait till the next morning: Mr Teeth was beat.


Othello put down the phone. "Ok, it's all set. Reverend Box will meet with us tomorrow."

"Reverend Box?" asked Mercury, who had just joined the others. "The Reverend Box?"

"Who's Reverend Box?" asked India, "And why would he know about Dynamo?"

"Box used to be an agent," explained Mercury, "but he retired from active duty."

"And became a preacher?" said Prada.

"In a manner of speaking," replied Mercury. "He's not actually an ordained minister, but he's built himself a little church out in the desert."

"I can't imagine he'd have a very big congregation out there." Said Prada.

"He doesn't." said Mercury, "In fact, no-one actually goes to his church – unless you count the sheep."

"Sheep? In the desert?" cried India, "Wouldn't they die of thirst?"
"According to Box, the Gods provide for them."

"Plus the fact he's got a fairly decent well in back of his place." added Othello, drily.

"Hold on a minute," said Prada, "You said he said the Gods provide? The Gods, plural?"

"Yeah," sighed Mercury, "That's why he had to retire: he started telling everyone that the Gods of Ancient Greece were back and were demanding worship."

"Oh, great," groaned Prada, "So now our most reliable source of information is a nut-job. This just gets better!"

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Episode 31

Agent India watched as Othello worked on Emerald's computer. His slim brown fingers flew over the keyboard as he scanned directories, opened up files only to close them, ran searches only to discard the matches they threw up, all the while not saying a word, totally absorbed and barely aware that she was in the room, it seemed.

It was nice to be away from that demon, she thought. She hadn't been joking when she said it made her teeth itch: its physical presence was a constant irritation, like fingernails scraping down a blackboard. It was also nice not to have to witness its slimy attempts to make friends with everybody. Did it seriously think anyone here, of all places, would fall for its blandishments? It must be the stupidest demon in the history of the world if it thought that. It probably was, though, she reminded herself: it was that monkey-thing that was doing all the thinking in that outfit.

She couldn't be the only one champing at the bit to send it back where it belonged, surely. What had that angel been thinking, teaming OGS and a demon up together? It was like one of those really terrible B-movies, where the hero and his arch-enemy have to work together and then become grudging friends – the sort of movie that has you reaching for the channel changer after the first five minutes. Well, there'd be no friendship, grudging or otherwise from her. Not after what had happened to her family because of fiends like that one.

Her brother David had been in his last year in High School when he'd met the beautiful Saskya. She had been new in town, new to the school and, being a kindly soul, David had taken her under his wing, as it were. Soon they were dating and when he brought her home to meet the family, India's teeth had itched mightily. Of course, she hadn't known what was making her feel so bad whenever Saskya was around – her gift had not been explained to her yet.

She had tried to warn David that she was suspicious of this beautiful, funny, charming, clever girl that he was smitten with, but he'd just laughed it off as younger sister jealousy. She sort of half-believed him. The two of them had always been close – as thick as thieves, as their grandma would say - and the arrival of David's love interest had reduced the amount of time he spent with his little sis. That's all it was then, just little sister jealousy. Wasn't it?

Then David had started staying out late on school nights, and when his parents tried to talk to him about it, India's normally peaceful and easy-going brother would fly into a rage and go stomping upstairs to his room. All of this could just have been teenage rebelliousness, but then he started skipping classes, choosing instead to lie on his bed all day, talking to Saskya on the phone or just staring up at the ceiling. Suspecting depression, India's parents had tried to get David to see a doctor, but he was having none of it.

He became gradually more and more moody and withdrawn. India had suspected he was using drugs and had searched his room when he was out. She didn't find anything; he was obviously too smart to hide stuff in the house.

So she'd confronted him.

If there was one single moment in her life that India would go back and change, it was this one. She'd accused him of taking drugs, and had accused Saskya of giving them to him. As soon as she'd mentioned his girlfriend's name, David had gone berserk, shouting and swearing and throwing stuff around the room, denying everything and telling her to get the hell out of his room and his life. As she'd been scurrying out of the room, he'd called her name. She'd turned around, thinking that maybe he was going to apologise or something.

The look on his face still gave her nightmares. His eyes were as dead as two stones and, while he was smiling – at least his mouth was in the shape of a smile – there was a fixed, frozen look to it, as if someone else were operating his muscles by remote control.

In his hand, he held up a little china figure that India had bought him when she was eight. It was Mickey Mouse and Pluto at the seaside, complete with buckets, spades, starfish and whatnot. Having got her attention, he slowly and deliberately set the thing down on the floor and then stamped on it, smashing it. Keeping his eyes on her the whole time, he had ground his heel back and forth on the pieces.

When he had started laughing, she had fled the room.

That day, David had left the house and disappeared. The Police searched, India's parents searched, driving for hours all over the town and local area. The school reported that Saskya had also disappeared and the address on her file turned out to be a derelict property which had not been lived in for years.

The end of the whole sorry chapter came a year later when a policeman had turned up at the door, bearing the news that a body had been found in a filthy squat in a town in the next state. ..

She was startled upright out of her reverie as the door opened and an excited Prada and Harold burst into the room.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Episode 30

It was a subdued group that made its way back to Aunt Aggie’s bearing the two pieces of a puzzle left for them by their late colleague.

In the outside world, life continued unabated, heedless of their loss. Apparently (according to the headlines displayed on a newsstand they passed), supermodel Page Brookes had split up with her sugar daddy, the famously craggy-featured and fabulously wealthy octogenarian media mogul Copernicus Blizzard. The thrash-metal band, Suicide by Propeller, had pulled out of their “Fifty Dates in Fifty States” tour, citing their lead singer’s illness following surgery to correct long-running dental problems. The economy was in its usual poor state. Some politician had been caught falsifying his expenses.

In short: the usual.

Harold stared thoughtfully outwards and upwards at the shining blue trapezoid of sky visible through the car window. He felt vaguely sorry for the humans – they were never going to see again in this life someone they cared for. Demons didn’t have that problem, of course, being immortal. At least, he corrected himself, they hadn’t until now. His old friend Illyriel had disappeared and might never be found again and, while it had been thousands of years since Harold had seen him, the years had not dimmed his affection for his old friend, nor damped the sense of separation and loss he had felt when he had found himself cast out with the others, never to return to the realms of light, love and warmth. If only he hadn’t been such a milquetoast back then, things could have been so very different. Still, what was done was done and there was no mending it now. He sighed.

“Something up, old sock?” enquired Teatime.

“Not really,” replied Harold, “I was just thinking is all…”

“I shouldn’t do that if I were you, you might hurt your head.”

“Ha, ha, very funny! You know, I really don’t see the point of us hanging around with these humans. I mean, we’re not actually helping them and pretty soon they’re going to realise it and…”

“Relax,” soothed Teatime, “The humans will do only what Baruthiel tells them. Besides, we may not be helping them, but it looks like they could be helping us, what with the all cryptic clue nonsense. At least they have a lead of sorts.”

“I suppose,” Agreed Harold reluctantly, “But it would be nice to make some kind of contribution.”

“Oh, dear, you’re not hoping to impress the humans are you?” warned Teatime, “Because if you are, I’d have to say you’re wasting your time. They’ll never trust you and they’ll certainly never like you. The sooner you accept that, the easier it will be for everyone.”

“I don't know,” mused Harold, “That agent Prada seems friendlier than the others. She was quite chatty this morning.”

“You are such a dullard at times,” groaned the little monkey, “It’s a wonder you can tie your own shoelaces. She wasn’t being friendly, she was trying to get you to let your guard down and maybe let slip some useful information.”

“Do you think?” Harold was disappointed. The idea that Prada had been anything other than genuinely friendly had not even occurred to him. He really was a dullard. He’d be on his guard now though all right.

“Luckily for us,” Teatime continued, “You don’t actually know anything that would be of use to these OGS lickspittles.”

“Thanks a lot. Can I help it if nobody tells me anything?” retorted Harold, slightly stung.

“You have a point there, old shoe,” conceded Teatime. “But be careful all the same. These people are not to be trusted.”

"Were you speaking Infernal back there in the car?" asked Prada. They were back at base and Othello had disappeared to work on Emerald's computer, leaving the others at something of a loose end.

Harold sipped his coffee, relishing the taste of the bitter liquid, before answering in the affirmative.

"It sounded really quite beautiful." Prada went on, "I kind of expected demons' talk to sound, you know –"

"All gutturals and hissing sibilants?" prompted Teatime, from his usual perch on Harold's shoulder.

"Well, yes, actually." Prada admitted. "That's how it's always been portrayed in books and movies, anyway."

"Well it is actually a variant of Celestial, and has not diverged that much over the centuries." replied Teatime. Harold could sense a lecture coming and was tempted to remind Teatime about his earlier comments regarding giving away information.

Teatime nattered on for a bit and Prada appeared to be listening intently, nodding and umming in the right places. Harold's mind wandered. He started thinking about the three strange numbers they had found what their connection might be to the chemistry book. Then he had an idea.

"Why don't we try typing those numbers into the Internet?" he said, interrupting Teatime's exposition on the Great Vowel Shift or some such.
"What?" Teatime said, slightly annoyed at the interruption.

"Let's type the numbers into Google and see what pops out."

"I hardly think agent Emerald will have made it that obvious, old sock." began Teatime. But it was too late; Harold and Prada were already heading out of the coffee room to the nearest OGS computer.

"You have to careful what you put in here," said Prada, seating herself in front of the machine, "I once typed in 'food cream' when I actually meant 'foot cream'. I didn't get anything for my grandma's bunions," she laughed, "but I did discover the history of ice cream. Now, what were those numbers?" She flipped open her notebook and typed in the string of digits and dashes.

"Interesting," she murmured, as a series of links appeared on screen. "They do seem to be connected with chemicals."

"Try each one separately," suggested Harold.

Prada's immaculately manicured fingers rattled over the keys.
"Hmm, nothing here but a load of radio station frequencies," she said, disappointed, "Oh wait, there is a chemical reference. Seems this number relates to 'Dysprosium', whatever that is."

She repeated the exercise with the two remaining numbers.

"So, we've got Dysprosium, Sodium and Molybdenum." she jotted this down in her notebook. "I flunked chemistry at school so I have no idea what this means. I think we need to talk to Othello." She got up and hurried off to find him.

"There you go, old bean," said Teatime, "you've made a contribution after all."