As I had expected, the videocam was in shambles. If I were to take a large, very complex piece of equipment, set it on a carpet-covered chopping block, and smash it with a sledgehammer, I imagine that it would look very much like what we found on the library floor. The camera had been smashed flat, then literally ground into the carpet, as if someone had been jumping up and down on the pieces. Everything else had been casually bashed around. None of it looked workable.
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Alex, the last of us to walk into the room, gasped and fell back against the wall. "Oh my shit!" he said. "Oh fuck! What the fucking fuck!?" I was considering slapping him, until Sarah did it first.
"Stop it!" she said. "Go outside. Sit down. Come back in when you're better. Understand?"
Gaze still fixed on his equipment, Alex nodded groggily. "Yeh..."
I was crouched over the camera, examining the remains, when Sarah came back. I looked up. "It was a good idea," I said. "In theory. You'll need to learn to expect these things, though. Most of what works in theory doesn't work in actual practice, and some things that shouldn't work in theory can wo-"
I tilted my head. "I know you're upset over the equipment-"
"No, Blake. Shut up. Hand me back the box, please."
I did so, without comment. She turned it over gingerly in her hands, pressed several buttons, and flipped it around for me to see. As I watched, the spectre of Thomas Locke floated into view...
I boggled. "How?"
"The box is a remote camera. Everything that happened in the library was recorded here at the same time. I KNEW this would happen, Blake. You see?"
I did. "Sarah, my dear, you were ten steps ahead of ME. Could I ever convince you to be my assistant?"
She grinned. "You'll have to keep on your toes. It'd be pretty silly for the assistant to be in charge all the time."
"Fair enough. I like a challenge." I paused. "You've really got the ghost on that?"
The temperature of the room seemed to drop. "We might do well to get gone, then. Salvage anything you can. I'm off to tell Jim the Janitor some convincing lies."
Actually, it was much easier than that. Randy is one of those few people who have been built without the obligatory imagination. I told him that there had been a terrible mishap with the equipment, and would he please not tell anyone, as it might be embarrassing to us?
"Not a problem," he said. "What kind of mishap?"
"Conditional," I said. "You might want to vacuum the rug before you leave."
"Just a thought. Thanks for letting us use the library."
"No problem. Think you'll be needing it again?"
"No, I don't think so."
Alex and Sarah were sitting outside when I returned. They both looked up expectantly, and at that moment they looked very much like children. I took a second to wonder what the hell I was thinking.
"We're done here," I said. "Let's get gone."
We got gone.
I think it must have hit them once they actually got outside the library- the sheer strangeness of it all, I mean. I could feel the change in them, even though I saw nothing from up front. One minute fine, the next... I turned around.
"I think the both of you had better stay at my place tonight." I said. They nodded.
"Would that be the creepy castle, or the mouldy mansion?" said Sarah. I blinked.
My apartment is somewhat less than impressive. It is, in fact, SO unimpressive, that if modern theorists are right, it's coming back on the other side as majestic. It is situated inside a small block of flats that look, for all rights and purposes, like a Lego that's been tipped on its' side. Most of them are currently for rent- I seem to drive away most normal people. I wonder why?
I pushed open the door, flipped on the lights, and was greeted by the smell of something gone bad. Given the direction from which the smell emanated, it appeared to be my socks. I looked under them and found a plate of fettucine.
From behind me, Sarah snorted. "Somehow, I was expecting more from you."
"A bit of a letdown, I know. My mouldy mansion is at the cleaners. It's got mold all over it. You two just make yourselves at home, I've got a few phone calls to make." They sat gingerly upon my sleeping couch, wary of the fact that it appeared to be decaying in some fundamental way, and I stepped into the kitchen. I'll save the description of the horrific things in my kitchen for another day.
First and foremost, I called Gideon. He picked up on the first ring.
"You've got them both, haven't you?" He said.
"You want to bring them over tomorrow?"
"Right again. Are you sure you're not psychic?"
"I'm well-connected. I've got psychic beat, hands down."
I smirked. "I won't argue that with you. How's noonish sound?"
"Very good. You still remember the passcode?"
"All twenty-six digits."
"Damn. I'll need to change it, then."
The bastard. "Be...imposing," I said. "These two are bright, but they're a little too dazed to know what's good for them yet. Maybe you can help drive it home."
"I'll see what I can come up with."
"Great. Be seeing you."
I hit the cut off button, put the phone back to my ear, and dialed up Denger. He answered on the second ring- it was my day for catching people at the phone- and I explained the situation to him.
"You're a bastard, Blake. You know that?"
"Denger, my man, I wake every morning and thank those deities that still listen for making me a bastard."
"Good. Maybe you'll live to join the pack, then. See you there." Click.
I padded back into the living room and found my new recruits dozing lightly on the Couch of Death. They looked so cute and helpless there, resting on each others' shoulders, I almost felt sorry for what I planned to do. Almost.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.