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."