Authors: Randall Farmer
(Carol Hancock’s POV)
I must have gone through a thousand different scenarios
for my graduation. Most I discarded, but my desperation grew with each failed
attempt at Transform transportation. Today, I thought up one a little less
unlikely than my other recent desperate ideas: buying an untagged Transform
from whatever Focus provided Keaton with those, on occasion.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have this Focus’s name, location,
or how to contact her. I needed Keaton’s contact information, which wasn’t in
any place accessible. That left just one place it might be, her office, the
one place Keaton forbade me to go.
This wouldn’t be easy.
From my first day here, Keaton built up her office as
the ultimate taboo place with her predator effect, to where just thinking about
her office made my mouth dry and my palms sweat. I didn’t understand how she
had managed to attach her predator effect to her office, but she managed to do
I had noted many things about her and her office over
the months. First, she preferred to work in her office during specific times
of the day. One was an ill-defined time after breakfast, another just after
early lunch, and another after evening workouts. The second time was the most
fixed time of the lot. If Keaton stayed in the warehouse, she stayed in her
office during the hour before noon.
Second, her office turned out to be the one place in the
warehouse that Keaton herself kept clean. I had seen into her office, from a
distance, and the place was immaculate. About half of an executive’s desk was
visible from the outside, polished to a high sheen and neat as a pin.
Third, her office didn’t have a normal door. The door
was steel, with bricks of some obscure sort on the inside. The door opened
out, not in, and over time the bricks left a fine powder residue on the floor.
I got curious about the bricks several months ago, and with a little work I
managed to track down the powdered residue. They were firebricks, commonly
used on the insides of factory furnaces for insulation. For whatever reason,
Keaton had made her office fireproof, or at least tried to.
I meditated until I quieted my nerves enough to face my
worst nightmares, braved her predator effect and tried the door. Locked!
Keaton would have been proud: I didn’t stop running
until I retreated into my closet. Damn! Nearly six months, and I had never
noticed Keaton kept her office locked. I had certainly never seen her use a
She had been playing with my mind, of course, using her
sleight of hand tricks. After several hours of self-recrimination, I got my
courage back up and went to examine the door again. The lock turned out to be junk,
standard office building office-lock quality, and trivial to pick.
So I did. However, I kept dropping the picks. I
meditated some more and picked the lock, and paused to gather myself once again
before I slowly opened the door toward me. The hinges creaked, which they never
did when Keaton opened the damned thing. Once in, I slowly moused my way
around the room, and practically jumped out of my shadow in fear every time a
car rumbled by a half mile away. I took the risk. My freedom might be here.
I studied the office for several minutes, before I understood
what I saw.
Keaton had her entire office lined with firebrick. The
firebrick on the inside and the standard brick on the outside were not enough
to explain the thickness of the walls, and I deduced additional fire retardant
material lay between them. Enough to make the room soundproof even to my ears.
Keaton’s executive desk stayed clean and shiny because
she likely used it only occasionally (and because she kept the room dusted and
vacuumed, it appeared). Her primary work area was a drafting table not visible
from the doorway, and this drafting table showed ample wear. I found several
maps of New York City on the drafting table. Not Mobile gas station maps, but
official-looking City of New York road maintenance maps and Army Corp of
Engineers maps of the boroughs.
New York City was Keaton’s primary hunting territory. She
hunted Philadelphia as well, but, despite Philly’s size, not enough
transformations occurred here to keep her close to satisfied.
Next to her drafting table was a large – no, huge – safe
of a kind and shape I had never seen before, bolted to the concrete floor with
two inch wide steel bolts. Years later, I would finally identify this as a
surveyor’s safe, common to land developers, land offices of oil companies, and
architects. I didn’t have the know-how or tools to crack a safe of this quality.
I found a note on the safe, though, in Keaton’s immaculate handwriting: “Took
you long enough, Skag. Touch the safe and you die.”
I almost peed on the floor.
Beyond the drafting table I found a television, and next
to the television, a man’s leather-upholstered recliner, on rollers. The
arrangement confused me for a few moments, as the recliner faced the wall. However,
close examination of the concrete floor revealed a minute set of worn-in
grooves. Keaton often rolled out her recliner…to in
of her desk?
Oh. Right where someone would be able to watch the
television in comfort.
Keaton never watched television. She thought television
rotted the brain. She didn’t allow me a television in my own private space or
put one out in our common area.
It didn’t take me long to figure out when Keaton watched
television. At eleven in the morning, I rolled the recliner back and turned on
the television. At last, Keaton’s secret would be revealed. Her safe held her
hunting maps and hunting records, worth more to Keaton than my life, certainly,
but also certainly worthless to me as any sort of leverage on Keaton. She kept
her contact information locked inside the safe as well, or on her body, because
I couldn’t find the information anywhere else in her office. Which shot down
my entire reason for this breaking and entering, but nothing ventured, nothing
Yes, I did think of taking the safe, escaping, and
selling it back to her for my freedom…for about five seconds. A normal might
think that might work, and holding the safe for ransom might work on a normal.
Doing so wouldn’t work on an Arm. I knew my own regard for my hunt-related
possessions. If I took her safe, or the safe’s contents, she wouldn’t rest
until she killed me, no matter what interim agreements she might make with me
to get the contents back. Just plain running would be a lot safer. So, whatever
Keaton hid from me had something to do with what she watched on the television.
I turned on the television and learned.
Keaton laughed that night when she smelled my sweat on
her leather recliner. Laughed and laughed and laughed. I had spent the rest
of the day slinking around the warehouse, hoping she would spend a few days
longer out hunting, and be successful, just to give me a chance to recover. Instead,
she turned up for dinner, which I had to conjure out of nowhere for her royal,
juice-stoned ass. I earlier decided that if she punished me for going into her
office, her punishment wouldn’t be too harsh, because I had left the safe alone.
From an Arm’s perspective, her safe was the only true valuable in the office. I
had forgotten about my sweat.
Keaton had a sick sense of humor. I was the butt of it,
of course. Did she set her office up from the start just to humiliate me?
Perhaps. Considering the build-up she gave it? Almost certainly.
When I had turned on the television at eleven that morning,
the show turned out to be an idiot soap opera, Dark Shadows. How fitting that
Keaton was addicted to a vampire soap opera.
They waited by the beach at Mystic Lakes, where remnants
of the day still littered the sand. A few candy wrappers, an empty Coke
bottle, potato chip crumbs. The Indian Summer had driven temperatures up into
the seventies, enough to attract a few courageous swimmers to the icy waters. The
park closed at sunset, though, and Robert Sellers enjoyed the crisp coolness rolling
in with the night. Beside him, Master Occum grumbled under his breath about
slow, inconsiderate Transforms who couldn’t be bothered to arrive on time.
They had arranged to meet at midnight. It was 11:45. Sellers
metasensed the cluster of Transforms approaching in vehicles, and he suspected Master
Occum had metasensed them minutes before.
“Alright,” Master Occum said, shaking his head, “we’re
going to actually go through with this, but remember the Rules. You got the
Rules?” Sellers nodded. “Remember the Rules. Especially the one about ‘Don’t
kill Household Transforms’. You got that?”
Sellers nodded again. “‘Don’t kill Household
Transforms’.” His low voice rumbled through the whispering trees. He
attempted not to get caught up in Master Occum’s nervousness.
“We shouldn’t be doing this. I know we shouldn’t be
doing this. You just go with them, don’t make a fiasco out of this, and get
back. If you can do that, we can try again later, even if you don’t succeed. You
don’t have to be in such a hurry. Hurry makes you stupid.”
“You said if I come back with the Monster, you’ll make
me a knight.” Knighthood was Sellers’ own idea. Hoskins had been right when
he made Sellers give up his old Rover name and pick a human name. Now, Sellers
wanted to take things further. Naming was important. A world of magic dogs
and quests and an obvious aristocracy needed nobility and a code of chivalry. Master
Occum had rolled his eyes and Hoskins called Sellers a fucking idiot, though,
when Sellers first asked to become a knight.
Hoskins could be damned irritating on occasion.
Sellers needed something to prove his worth. He had
been no good to anyone for as long as he could remember. So, he insisted, and
insisted, until Master Occum came up with a quest. Getting the quest quieted
When Hoskins got quiet, though, he often got to
thinking. Hoskins, despite his annoyances, was creative, and sometimes he did
some things very right. He had killed Shere Khan, for one.
Shere Khan had been another of Master Occum’s Chimeras,
and something had been wrong with Shere Khan, some bad twist in his mind, some
gap where responsibility should have lived. Sellers had wanted to kill Shere
Khan the first time he met him, but Master Occum insisted no, and Sellers
hadn’t been willing to risk Master Occum’s anger and the chance Master Occum
might throw him out into the wilds again. Hoskins took the risk. Sellers
would endure a lot of irritation in payment for Hoskins’ one deed.
“You be careful,” Master Occum said. “Just be careful.
The world is dangerous out there.”
The chug of multiple engines came closer, three cars, two
pickup trucks, and a VW van. They turned into the parking lot 30 feet away.
“Do you see him?” A male voice.
“I can’t see a damned thing in this dark. You want to
turn the headlights off so our eyes can adjust?” A female voice this time,
followed by a different male voice.
“What’s he supposed to look like? I couldn’t make a
damned bit of sense out of the messages we got.”
Sellers let them chatter in the distance, and turned to
Occum. “I’ll be careful,” he said, kneeling down to Master Occum’s eye level.
“I give you my word.” Occum clapped him on the shoulder. “It’s time for you
to go,” Sellers said.
Master Occum nodded and withdrew through the trees, away
from the parking lot and the cluster of cars and Transforms. “Just remember
the Rules! And don’t screw it up!”
Sellers nodded, knowing Master Occum would sense the
motion. He stepped out of the trees into the parking lot and the view of the
still shining headlights.
“Shit,” someone said, in a whisper. “He must be eight
No one said a word for several long seconds. Sellers examined
his new companions. Eleven Transforms, of which six were female and five male,
and two normals, both male. No Focus. The idea of including a Focus in the
expedition had made Sellers uneasy and Master Occum agreed. ‘Too much
potential for trouble.’
Don’t kill Household Transforms. Rule number 34. Sellers
held it in his mind.
“Sadie, you’re up,” a female voice said.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m working on it. The door’s stuck.”
Sellers heard the thump of a heel against a door, and the creak of a door
opening. A not particularly attractive woman, with brown hair and no makeup,
got out of the second car. She came to within ten feet of Sellers. He had
never before been so close to a Transform he didn’t intend to kill. He stepped
back, despite the fact he recognized her scent. Her scent had been all over
Master Occum when his Master saved him from an ignominious death. He took a
deep sniff through his still-far-too-canine snout. Yes, despite his many
changes, his fuzzy memory still remembered. These Transforms once hunted him, and
later saved him by driving him into Master Occum’s arms.
She stopped. “I’m Sadie,” she said. “You’re Rover?”
“I’m Robert Sellers. Are you a Transform with a Focus?”
He had practiced the question ahead of time, to make sure it was clear.
She frowned at his odd question. “My apologies, Mr. Sellers.
Shall I call you Mr. Sellers?”
“Yes.” He hadn’t yet earned his nobility. He was still
of no use to anyone. “Are you a Transform with a Focus?”
She nodded. “My Focus is Lorraine Rizzari. I thought
you knew that.”
He presumed. When the Rules got involved, it was
. Instead of speaking, he nodded. He needed to bury
his naturally touchy nature around these Transforms. He owed them, and debt
was a part of responsibility he fully understood.
“Let me introduce the rest of us,” Sadie said.
The rest exited the cars and trucks. Jim, Tim, Tina. Ann,
Eileen, Bill. Others. Ann was the leader. He was surprised to find a female
leader, but he already knew this quest would provide shocks and uncomfortable
moments. Otherwise, what would it prove?
“Are you all Transforms with a Focus?”
Sadie appeared puzzled by his insistence on the odd
question, but she answered. “Yes, all of us are in Focus Rizzari’s household.”
“The two there?” He glanced at the far car, where two
Transforms waited. Sadie hadn’t introduced them.
“Connie and Doug,” Sadie said. “Connie won’t be coming
with us. She’s our household president.”
Another female leader. And here only to look at him,
for why else would she come here but not further?
Connie stepped out of the car when Sadie introduced her
and Sellers took a startled breath. She was beautiful.
The other women of this Focus household were ordinary at
best, but Connie was blonde and shapely and entirely suitable for amorous
attention. Sellers grew hard and the urge to take her in the parking lot
He considered. Rule 1, ‘No Raping Master’. Connie
wasn’t his master. Rule 34, ‘Don’t kill household Transforms’. She was a
household Transform, but he wouldn’t kill her, merely rape her. There was no
rule against raping household Transforms. He would be doing nothing wrong if
he raped her now.
He hesitated, though, as some niggling worry crept up
from his subconscious, some sense that his logic wasn’t sound.
Ah, Master Occum also said, ‘no fiascos’. He took a
deep breath and considered
, a new skill he struggled with
on occasion. If he raped their leader, these other Transforms might object. They
would have responsibility for their leader, and so, in fact, they might object
strongly. Strongly enough they might even create the fiasco Master Occum feared.
Unfortunate, but he would not risk even a small chance
of ruining his quest. On the other hand, if she consented…
“We can fuck?” he asked Connie. He considered
consequences again, and after a short hesitation, also offered: “We can go
behind a tree.” Women sometimes liked privacy, he thought he remembered from
some former life.
Several of the Transforms murmured in what sounded
suspiciously like offense. Sadie winced and Ann rubbed her forehead.
Connie blinked, her emotions now hidden from him. “No,”
she said. “We can’t fuck.”
Too bad. He would have liked to fuck Connie. He
observed the reaction of the household to his conversation with the beautiful
woman, and sighed one of his doggy-style sighs. He had been correct in his
. These Transforms would react badly if he
raped her. He would have to go without in order to avoid
He turned away from Connie and faced Ann. “You are
acceptable. Take me to the Monster.”
Ann blinked and raised her eyebrows, but Sadie said, “Go
with the flow, Ann. He’s helping us. Go with the flow.”
Ann took a deep breath. “Right. So come on over here, Mr.
Sellers and you can ride with Jim.” Sellers ignored the appalled look on Jim’s
face and followed Ann to the passenger side of a banged up green pickup truck.
He peered down into the tiny space beyond the door and stopped.
“No.” He wouldn’t trap himself in such a tiny space
without Master Occum around to keep his urges down. No killing household
“Now look, Mr. Sellers,” Ann said, but Sadie interrupted
“Take a breath, Ann. He’s got different rules. Work
Ann took the breath, and then a second, while she studied
him carefully. She rubbed her forehead again.
“Okay,” she said. “You are a little unusual looking,
but if you keep low, you can probably ride in the bed of the pickup without
anybody noticing. Just don’t let anyone see your face. They’re normals. They
probably won’t react well.”
Sellers regretted again his inability to adopt a fully
human appearance. Too much hair, a face with more snout than mouth and chin,
he still couldn’t pass as human. Someday, he would do better. He hoped.
“I will keep face hidden.”
Ann nodded doubtfully. “Probably good to keep the rest
of you hidden, too. You’re a bit big for a human. Let’s find you a blanket. Or
something. To cover your clothes.”
Sellers understood the issue with his face, but his
clothes were fine, an old huge t-shirt with extra-large sweatpants. The
sweatpants were intended to be full length, but on him they came to just below
the knees. They even came from one of the nicer sections of the Boston
municipal garbage dump.
Hiding felt unnatural, but he would hide. No fiascos.
“Alright people,” Ann said, after he settled into the
bed of Jim’s pickup, on top of weaponry, shackles, tarps, a couple of coolers,
and various other supplies he didn’t recognize. “Load up, we’re heading out.”
The evening breeze brought the scent of wilderness to
Seller’s nose, heaven after so long in the claustrophobic confines of Boston. Beeches
and birches, pines and firs. Chipmunks, deer, even the scent of a far off
moose. Decaying pine needles, jewelweed, ferns, moss and fungus, the roads lined
with the gold, red and purple glories of New England autumn. They had left I93
an hour ago for the narrow forestry roads of White Mountain National Forrest
and the green silence of pines and furs.
Sellers gave up hiding miles ago. At first, after he sat
up, he stuck his head into the airstream and enjoyed the motion and the scents,
until the little memory voice in his head reminded him of Rule 11 (‘In man
form, act as a man, not like the beast you are in your Beast form’).
Chagrined, he tucked his lolling tongue back into his mouth, leaned his back
against the cab of the pickup and reveled in the odor of freedom.
He had caught the first scent of Monster a half hour
ago, drifting through the forest on a pine scented north breeze, almost too
faint to detect. She laired miles away, well out of metasense range, he
guessed maybe 15 or 20 miles north northeast.
The crew of Transforms encountered several forks in the
network of forestry roads and always chose the right one, drawing closer to the
Monster. Until now. The road split into two rutted dirt roads, equally
untended, and the Transforms took the right fork, cars and trucks bouncing over
the ruts with a squeak of springs.
The Monster was north, not east.
Sellers turned around and banged on the roof of the cab.
Jim hollered, but Sellers kept pounding, leaving dents in the roof. Jim pulled
the truck to a bouncing stop by the side of the road and got out. The other vehicles
pulled over around them.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jim shouted. “You’re
going to collapse the damned roof!”
Sellers’ temper rose at this insolent Transform who
dared to shout at him, but he kept his voice even. “Wrong direction.”
Jim shouted some more, and people came over from the
other vehicles and some of them shouted, until Ann hollered over everyone,
“Alright, people, calm down. What’s going on here?”
Jim explained, his words coming too fast in his anger
for Sellers to follow. He hoped this wasn’t his Master’s feared fiasco. He
would have liked to confront Jim, argue loudly and quickly himself, but the
changes caused by his transformation prevented him. Someday, perhaps, but not
today. He would make do with the talents he was able to control.
“Okay, so why?” Ann asked him once she heard Jim’s
explanation and calmed Jim down.
“Wrong direction,” Sellers said, and pointed. “Monster
is that way.”
“You metasense the Monster? How close?” Her voice held
a hint of panic, and several of the Transforms took up defensive positions
around the vehicles.