From the Story Arc: Grim's Gamble

Previous Story in the Arc: News Flash! by Astra Kyne Murdock (Tuesday, November 07, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Mercy Street by Astra Kyne Murdock (Thursday, November 09, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, November 08, 2006)

It had begun with a lie.

Locked in the CCCP safe room by magic and physical bolts, Astra listened to her father gently try to tell her that she must leave all this in the hands of her parents and their friends. Locked inside her own head, with Kyne held out of control, she nodded solemnly and lied. She would stay at home, go to classes, and let them handle it. Her father took that at face value—she had never lied before. Her mother…it was hard to say what Sera was thinking. But—

No matter. She was out. And she stuffed some underwear into a belt-pouch, turned off her comm., disabled her chips and fled.

To Striga. To the Mermaid Tavern. To old Stephanie Peebles, who ran the place. The old woman looked at her curiously when she asked for a room, but made no comments about her age or her reasons why.

Striga was one place people she knew didn’t go much right now. She was unlikely to be spotted, and no one at home knew she had started taking jobs there. This would be a good place to practice tactics, and dividing her time between here and Croatoa would let her practice on ghosts, spirits, things like Grim Gambol. This was the headquarters of the Council and they had plenty of connection to the Council in the Rogue Isles. Every time she busted a base, she checked the computer records for information on Grim Gambol. There wasn’t much, but she thought she was beginning to get a picture of what his strengths and weaknesses were, and realized soon that when Aedan and Aunt Vickie had gone up against him, it had been, in her father’s parlance, “Like bringing a knife to a gunfight.”

She couldn’t do this alone. She needed a team. And teams took time to build…and her heart tore in half with every news report from the Isles….babies kidnapped. Babies dead….

looking down on empty streets, all she can see
are the dreams all made solid
are the dreams all made real

all of the buildings, all of those cars
were once just a dream
in somebody's head

she pictures the broken glass, she pictures the steam
she pictures a soul
with no leak at the seam

First…Shuma. Her sister. The most trusted of the trusted. She needed people who could drain Grim Gambol, slow him down. Shuma was one of the most powerful of those she thought she could count on. She explained herself to Shuma, showed her the newspaper clippings, then ended with the truth. “If I can, I am going to kill him.” The unthinkable. Heroes didn’t kill. But she was going to.

Shuma just looked at the clippings, and Astra felt the anger and—at the same time—the focus of intellect. “Is good plan.” She looked up at her adoptive sister. “Is ghost. So killing is exorcism, hai?”

Well….put that way…Astra nodded.

“Dui,” said Shuma.

nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey
nowhere in the suburbs
in the cold light of day

there in the midst of it so alive and alone
words support like bone

Next, the hardest. The only “adult.” Moriyaku. Trusted, because she had been on the streets, knew the hard ways, the dirty ways; trusted because of what Astra had sensed in her heart when they had worked together. But hardest, because Mori was an adult and a mother, and…might tell her parents.

She cautiously pinged Mori’s comm. on tight-beam, and when the magician answered, said, “Miss Mori…I need your help. But you have to promise not to tell my father.”

“Well, I…I suppose…” Moriyaku began. But Astra forestalled the objections by transmitting the e-copies of all the articles from the Rogue Isle papers about the kidnappings and the murders. While Mori was still looking at those, she explained Garvey. Explained Grim. Explained herself. The packages. “Aedan and Aunt Vickie went to Bloody Bay to pretend to surrender and fight him instead. They couldn't lay a finger on him. Halloween night he sent me.....a head,” she gulped. “It was carved up like a pumpkin.”

There was only static over the comm..

“While I was talking to him trying to get him to....I dunno, agree to fight me, he killed Danny Murdock while I was listening.”

More static.

“I was going to just give myself up to him but father showed up and stopped me and had Mandy haul me into the CCCP safe room until I agreed to leave it in his hands. But I....lied. I can't do that. He;s so angry....I'm afraid....” Afraid of how that would change him. What it would do to him….” I'm going to do something about it. I'm going to cheat.”

Finally an answer. “I.... Astra. Cheat?”

She took a deep breath. “I"m going to try to get Grim to believe that I am giving myself up, but I'm going to have....some people....hiding. In ambush. And then I'm going to kill him.”

In a sick voice, Mori replied. “You don't want to do that. You don't want to have that on your conscience.”

She had an argument for that. Maybe not a good one, but an argument. “He's a ghost. He's already dead. He traded 200 years of doing evil on earth to a demon in exchange for getting his revenge. He told Mother that Garvey offfered him something on the contract that wasn't money. He told her if she could figure it out and meet his price then he'd drop the contract. But he wouldn't tell her what it was. So if I can't kill him, I'm going to hurt him until he tells me what it is... And if I can't hurt him, I can at least get Longbow to throw him in the Zig and maybe they can hang onto him long enough that we can find out what it is. I have to stop this.”

“Astra, listen to yourself,” Mori said. “You're talking about trying to kiil or at least contain something that works on a completely different plane.”

“But I have to stop this. There's no other way except to give myself up to him,” she replied urgently. “....he's killed five kids so far. Five little kids. They never did anything. And the only reason they’re dead is because Aedan and I are alive and free instead of with Garvey.” She gulped. “Father is so angry….he doesn’t talk about it, but he was covert ops before he got powers. They…don’t have a good reputation. I’m afraid that if he deals with this…he’ll lose mother.”

Softly Mori replied. “I’ll help, Astra. I've dealt with demons, Astra. I've dealt with spirits and souls who want nothing better than to hurt and kill in their quest to feel somehow whole.”

She sighed with relief. “.....I.....I'm sorry you've had to.”

“So’m I.”

“'s just not as easy as running around in a costume and whacking purse snatchers, is it?” Not anymore. Not anymore.

“No,” Mori replied. “It’s not. Please, take care of yourself. If you need help, call.”

Then Twin. That was as easy as finally opening up the link between them and letting it all come through. From him, profound relief that finally they were doing something, and agreement with her plan, and….hope. At last.

dreaming of mercy st.
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy('s arms again
dreaming of mercy st.
'swear they moved that sign
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms

Tasha was as easy as Shuma, or Aedan. All she needed to know was what had happened, and why Astra was doing this. But Tasha was almost a sister. There were some things that went deeper than blood, and one of those was…well, maybe understanding.

And Tigerbright was just as easy.

Last of all….Electrikeet. An odd choice maybe, but it was partly what Keet had done at the Siege of King’s Row, partly working with her, and partly….it was hard to describe. There was something about her that went far beyond the apparent craziness.

pulling out the papers from the drawers that slide smooth
tugging at the darkness, word upon word

confessing all the secret things in the warm velvet box
to the priest-he's the doctor
he can handle the shocks

She pinged Keet, who agreed to come meet with her. She chose Shuma’s apartment rather than their own; it was risky enough coming to the building even though she knew everyone was out. The first thing Keet said was, “. . . I don't recall ever seeing you wear quite so much black before.”

She knew her eyes were red and swollen from crying, but she took off her dark glasses and pulled down her black scarf anyway. “About that favor…”

Keet adjusted her glasses. “You’ve my attention.”

She could have recited the explanation in her sleep now, but it didn’t get any easier. Not with more kids missing….seven of them now. “…I’m going to cheat,” she concluded.

“It's not cheating if you're the good guys. And us? We're assured of that, right?” Keet said, with a slight smile.

Astra had the feeling that, as always with Keet, there was way more under the surface of those words than what was on top.

“I don't feel as much like a good guy as I used to,” she said, troubled. “All I know is I can't let any more kids die. And....that's where the favor comes in. I've been studying him. I think I know some of his weak spots.”

“I’m listening,” Keet said.

“I'm getting a team and Aedan and I are going to play bait while the team ambushes him. People that can slow him down, drain him, wear down his defenses and pound on him from a distance. Like you.”

“That's what Tomas here is built for. It's not a killing device, though. It's a life-giving device. Do you understand what I mean by that?” Keet looked at her penetratingly.

She nodded. “You can protect us. And you his protections. You aren't a pounder. That's me an' Aedan and Tigerbright.”

Keet nodded. “That, and... well, I'll spare you the philosophy. The important thing is that we see this tale through to its resolution.”

So Keet was in. The last of what she needed. She felt limp and yet…somehow worse. Acute distress was leaking across her shields and she couldn’t help it. “.....that baby. Jacob. That....poor baby..... And Hannah. And Darryl. And Gavin….And Daniel. He killed Daniel while I was listening.....”

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” Keet asked suddenly.

She looked up. “Yes, actually…but…”

“That’s all I wanted to know,” Keet said, as two slow tears moved down Astra’s cheeks. “I”ll help you in every way I can. Any by proxy, them.”

As she seized Keet’s hand to thank her, she got a—flash of something. There was a…connectedness there, like Mandy’s sort of, but different. In a way, like her mother Sera’s too. Something…big.

“I'm glad to help. It's what I'm here for,” Keet said as Astra blinked.

“Yes,” she said, slowly. “I think you are.”

Keet smiled gently. “You have friends in ways you don't yet understand. This is where we press the 'A' button and ask their help. Trust me.”

“I do,” Astra said, quietly. And then it was all coordination and planning for a while and things went back to…normal. When she mentioned again that Tigerbright was going to be part of this, Keet said, with a quirk of her mouth, “Ah, another cat-person. I'll have my allergy meds handy.”

“I thought you liked pretty cat-girls?” It wasn’t quite a joke, but it was the closest she had come in days.

“I do. I'm just allergic as all get-out if I don't take my meds. There's irony in them thar hills.”

“In more ways than one. Kinda…forbidden fruit sorta thing?”

Keet laughed. “Forbidden? Hah, my wife loved being meowed at. Anyhow, if there's nothing else, I'll go do what I can to tune Tomas here for the Bloody Bay area. I get better results if I account for environmental factors beforehand.”

“Yeah, watch out for those meteors. They do weird things to you,” she said ruefully, thinking of a trip she had made there under Tim’s protection, that netted her a pet Shivan for a time. It seemed so long ago…a whole different person ago.

“I like weird. Take care, kiddo, and I'll be ready when you need me,” Keet replied, as Astra thanked her again and they let themselves out.

And back she went to Striga, where she finally stopped for the day, exhausted, and went up to her room to stare out across the wharfs. A whole different person…when she knew that other people would protect her. Now she had to be the protector….

dreaming of mercy st.
wear your insides out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms again
dreaming of mercy st.
'swear they moved that sign
looking for mercy
in your daddy's arms

mercy, mercy, looking for mercy
mercy, mercy, looking for mercy

*Mercy Street, lyrics by Peter Gabriel