Ghouls In The Halls
By Melissa Good
Rain poured down around the ramparts of the citadel, a thrumming power that could be heard and felt even through meters of rock.
At the midpoint of the facility, the operations mess hall was in full swing, most of the tables packed with bodies and the sound of the lunchtime processing systems a low, muted rumble.
At one table near the back wall, one of the two seats was occupied by a short, slim woman in a scuffed green jumpsuit, various tools hanging off points and belts and a pair of thermal gloves tucked halfway in one pocket.
“So, are you ready for the Halloween party, Dev?”
Dev looked thoughfully across the table at the man standing next to it. “I have heard there is a party tonight, but Jess didn't say what kind it was, Clint.” She admitted. “What is a halloween?”
“Ah.” The mech chief sat down across from her. “It's a really old custom.” He said. “Like, really, really old.”
“I see.” Dev put her fish roll down and focused on him, giving him her entire attention. “And?”
“You dress up in funny costumes, and everyone tries to scare each other.” Clint went on. “And you try to catch a fish in your teeth in a basin.”
Dev's brows, which had started to hike, now went almost to her hairline. “What?”
He nodded. “I know it sounds crazy, but it's fun. Just everyone letting loose for a night. People get dressed up as ghosts and sea monsters, and stuff like that.”
“I see.” Dev ran the words through her head again, sorting them out and making note of the ones she'd have to look up later. “What are you going to.. ah.. get dressed up as?”
Clint grinned. “A scarecrow.”
Dev made another note in her head. “I see.”
“If you catch the fish, you get a prize.” Clint went on. “They get some outsider stuff and give it away. I won a pair of nice gloves once.”
“You... caught the fish in your teeth?” Dev repeated slowly. “And they gave you gloves?”
He nodded. “Yep. So what are you going to wear?” He asked. “I'm sure Jess has something in mind. She dressed up as a werewolf last year and hid in the lower levels scaring the crap out of everyone.”
Dev merely stared at him in mute minor shock. “A werewolf?”
Clint glanced up. “And here she comes So I'll leave you guys to it.” He got up and lifted a hand in a faint wave. “Hey Jess. Just telling Dev here about Halloween.”
Jess put her tray down and dropped into the seat. “Yeahhh. Tonight's the party isn't it.” She mused, waggling her eyebrows at Dev. “But you're going to have to really work at looking scary, Devvie.”
“You are. You're way too cute.”
“She sure is.” Clint backed off and headed off back to work. “Later!”
Dev studied her partner, who was plowing through her meal. “What's a werewolf?”
Jess looked up, a bit of seaweed hanging from her lips. She hastily slurped it in and swallowed it. “Clint's been squealing on me?” She growled. “I'm not sure I like that.”
“Was it a secret?” Dev looked at her with a puzzled frown. “It didn't sound like it.'
Jess took a sip of her drink. “No.. well, no, not really.” She admitted. “It was just a gag. I was in a bad mood last year and decided to creep people out after they all gave me a hard time about the g... well, never mind. Not going to do that again.”
“I see.” Dev went back to her fishroll, completely in the dark. “Would you have less discomfort telling me about catching fish in your teeth?” She remarked. “I think I need to go back and do some research about this Halloween thing because approximately half the words being used in relation to it are unknown to me.”
“You guys didn't celebrate it up in space? Woulda thought that station would be a good place for a haunting.” Jess replied. “Used to be an old religious thing in ancient times. Harvest festival, that turned into a thing where you celebrated the dead.” She chewed her fishroll and then looked up to find Dev staring back at her with that adorably befuddled look she got when language failed her. “Long story.”
“See, that's the night when all the spirits of the people who've died come back to visit. Or haunt. Or something.” Jess said. “We used to do it up big time at Drake's Bay. My father made a kickass Dracula.”
“Dracula.” Dev repeated the word. “What is a dracula?”
“Okay.” Dev agreed amiably. “Then what's a vampire?”
Jess chewed her fish thoughfully. “What's a vampire.” She repeated. “I think it's a person who can turn into a bat, but they're dead, and they bite people and drink their blood.”
Dev merely blinked several times at her. “Really.”
“Anyway, the party tomorrow has little games and stuff like being able to stick your head in a basin and grab a fish with your teeth.” Jess went onto a different subject. “Or, you hit a target with a rock, or throw a sea urchin through a hoop, and win a prize. That sort of thing.”
Dev's blond head cocked to one side. “Oh, okay wait a moment.” She held up a hand. “We had something like that, a little. We called it a carnival.” She looked a bit relieved. “The proctors would make up little sacks of nice things to eat, and for special games, a pass to go topside and see the stars for a while.”
“Okay, good. At least you're not looking at me like I had two heads anymore.” Jess agreed. “Did you dress up?”
“No.” Her partner shook her head. “But we would do games, like running and jumping, and whoever came in the first few places would get prizes.” Dev said. “So I understand that part.”
“I dont think I want to put a live animal in my mouth though, Jess.”
Jess chuckled. “You don't have to. We can just watch.” She finished up a scoop of creamed seaweed. “But we need a costume for ya.”
“A costume. I see.”
“Yeah, kind of like when were undercover.” Jess explained. “Like we're pretending to be someone else.”
“Ahh!” Dev's eyes lit up. “Interesting!” She said. “Clint said he was going to be a scarecrow.” She prounced the word carefully. “And you were a werewolf. What kind of costumes are those?”
Jess drained her cup and stood up. “Weird ones. But c'mon, we'll find something for ya. There's some old trunks of rags and stuff down in the caverns. Let's see what we can find to scary you up.”
“Okay.” Dev agreed. “Can I be a werewolf?
“Nah. You as a werewolf would be as cute as that polar bear cub.”
“Oh. Is that bad?”
“No, just not scary.”
Dev peered at her reflection, or rather, the white cloth shrouded image in the mirror that was only recognizable to herself by the pair of pale green eyes outlined by the holes in it. After a minute, the cloth moved as she shook her head. “Jess was right. I don't get this at all and I don't think I look at all scary.”
The costume was mostly several big pieces of grayish white fabric, draped over her and caught up a little at her waist by another piece of cloth. It covered her head, and all the rest of her, and she felt like she looked more or less like a laundry bag only moving.
She walked out into the main area of her quarters and paused, as the interconnecting door to Jess's opened and her partner came in.
Or, what she thought was her partner. “Jess?” She asked, cautiously, studying what was apparently a walking pile of oceanic debris.
“Yup, it's me.” The creature came forward. “Like it?” She asked. “Its an old fishing net I found down in the caverns all stuck over with dried seaweed.”
“That is exactly what it appears to be.” Dev agreed. “What is this again?” She held out the edges of the white fabric.
“You're a ghost.”
“A ghost. It's a dead spirit.” Jess informed her. “People who died, and then came back to haunt their relatives by running around in a sheet and scaring them.”
Dev stared blandly at her.
Jess started laughing. “I didn't say any of this made sense.”
Dev shook her head. “That's excellent because it doesn't.” She said. “Why would a dead person do anything other than be dead?” She asked. “I have seen dead people, Jess. They dont come back as... what did you call them? Ghosts?”
“No, in my experience they haven't done that either.” The seaweed monster agreed. “Because if all the people I killed came back to haunt me there woudln't be room for them squeezed into every square inch of this citadel.” She clapped Dev on the back. “C'mon, Casper. Let's go party.”
“What's a Casper?”
“The name of an ancient cartoon ghost.”
“What's a cartoon?”
“Just c'mon.” Jess guided her cloaked partner down the hall, joining a crowd of people in a range of odd outfits heading for the elevators up to the gathering hall. “We've got some cartoons in the vid archive. We can watch them later on.”
“Okay” Dev amiably gave up trying to figure it out and simply followed her, aware of tall figures in every possible combination of odd covering and helmet or hat, or something that rendered them unrecognizable to her as they shuffled along.
Weird. Just absolutely weird. Dev decided she would just experience it, then write Doctor Dan a long note about the proceedings and hopefully he would write back with some kind of explanation that made some kind of sense.
The doors slid open on the big elevator and she paused, staring, at the big space now filled with flickering lights, lacy filigree substance, weird sounds, and puffs of cold air coming from all directions.
Most of the lights were out in the room, only small globes were positoined on tables letting a faint, grayish glow that put most everything in shadows, tables and platforms with various things and games on them outlined with lurid green and orange string tubes making the whole place look like nothing she'd ever seen.
Dev had no idea where to look first. She stood, frozen, until she felt Jess's arm curl around her back and urge her forward, and then she was accompaning her walking pile of seashore smelling debris as they walked into the big space.
Everywhere she looked there were strange things. “What is that?” She pointed.
“Spiders.” Jess told her. “Eight legged insects – theyr'e related to shrimp.”
Dev stared at the big black things that were bouncing everywhere, their legs poking people in the head and getting tangled in costumes. “They're... alive?”
“Nah.” Jess leaped up unepectedly and grabbed one in mid flight, bringing it down for Dev's inspection. It had big, green glowing eyes, and equally glowing fangs. “See? It's on a flexible string.”
Hesitantly, Dev reached out and touched the thing, which seemed cold and rubbery. “I see.”
Jess released it, and it went flying across the room, to bounce on someone else's head and produce a muted scream. “Let's get some grog.”
They wound among the creatures and ended up at one of the service tables, where bio alts stood, their concession to the event a wide ranging collection of face masks that all seemed different. “Hello, Ayebee.” Dev spoke up from behind her cloak. “May I have a drink?”
The Ayebee smiled and handed her a mug. “Hello, NM-Dev-1. Are you enjoying the party? This is my third one and I think I like it.” He touched the mask. “These are all different. Did you notice?”
“I did.” Dev smiled. “I like that one. It's pretty.”
It was a little like a bird face, with colorful feathers and pebbles inset in it. The Ayebee beamed at the praise, then turned to hand Jess a mug. “Hello, Agent Jess.”
The walking weed pile took the mug. “How in the hell did you know it was me?”
The Ayebee looked at Dev, then looked at her, then looked back at Dev. “Usually you are in the presence of NM-Dev-1, and your height difference is recognizable.” He answered straightforwardly. “Thats a very interesting costume.”
“Thanks.” Jess bumped Dev along. “Let's go watch the fish dunk.”
Dev studied the smoking mug in her hand. “Jess, what is this?”
“It's just beer. They rig the mugs to smoke with a chunk of frozen carbon dioxide in the bottom here.” Jess told her. “I like these skull mugs. I might steal one for my quarters.
Dev studied the mug, and then she took a sip of the cold beverage, finding it fizzy and quite nice tasting. She drank more of it as she followed Jess over to a long table, with basins on it, and lots of people around sticking their heads in them.
As she watched, Jason came up for air, with a wiggling fish clenched in his teeth. He jerked upright and whipped his head to one side, releasing the fish and sending it flying.
Without much thinking, Dev reached out a hand and caught it as it wiggled past, feeling the motion against her hand as it struggled. “Oh.” She pulled it close to her eyes to inspect it, and found it to be, in fact, a small fish who was gasping for air and staring at her with a fishy desperate look.
“Hey! Good catch!” Jason peered at her thorugh the darkness. “Is that the rocket scientist?”
Dev stepped forward and handed back the animal. “Yes.” She reluctantly claimed her unlikely nickname. “I think you lost this.”
Jason tossed the fish back into the basin, and took a sack being held out to him. “Want to give it a try?”
“No.” Dev said, positively. “I don't want to catch a live animal in my mouth.” She stated. “Not even for a prize.” She half turned. “Jess, are you going to do this?”
“She's disqualified.” Jason said. “It's no fair if you can breathe underwater.”
Jess moved aside some of her seaweed and took a sip from her mug. “Place looks good.” She said. “Nice to have some fun after all the hard work rebuilding everything.” She changed the subject, glancing up as thunder rolled over head and lightning flashed, illuminating the gathering all in silver and white highlights.
“It does.” Jason agreed. “Glad they just released me from med and I missed most of the hard work.” He grinned. “Want to get some eyeballs?”
Dev made sure Jess was in front of her on the way towards this offered treat. She dodged several bouncing spiders, and stopped short when something scrabbled in front of her, scuttling across the floor. “Jess!”
“What?” Her partner reacted to the alarm, whirling in front of her and nearly wiping out a table of cups with the debris tied to her costume. Her head moved visibly under the net, her body moving into a sinuous wave as she searched for whatever it was that had so freaked out her tech.
“Something ran past us.” Dev said. “It was small.”
“Smaller than you?” Jess relaxed a little, still searching the area.
“Who invited a midget to the damn party!” Jess let out a bellow. “Hey!”
“Shh!” Elaine emerged from the crowd, dressed in a layers of black fabric with a pointed hat on her head. “What the hell are you yelling about?”
Jason came up on the other side, pushing back his mop of dangling somethings he was wearing on his head. “What's that about a midget?”
“Dev saw a midget.” Jess said. “Right?” She turned to her shrouded tech.
“I have no idea what a midget is.” Dev said. “But something little just ran past here and went under that table.” She pointed. “It was about as high as my knees.”
All of them stared down at Dev's completely invisible knees.
“Had to be a midget, right?” Jess said, in a reasonable tone. “No one else is knee high to my wrencher.”
“Oh, c'mon, Jess.” Jason rolled his eyes. “You seeing goblins again?” He prodded her.
“I didnt see it, Dev did.” Jess pointed. “I bet she never heard of goblins, right?”
“I”d never heard of goblins until you got drunk last year and babbled about them for an hour.” Elaine said. “Some damn Drake's Bay myth we got to hear about over and over and over again.”
“It wasn't a goblin.” Jess said, gritting her teeth. “Are you jacktards ever going to let me forget that?”
“Nope.” Jason shook his head. “Jess the Goblin hunter. Never going to forget that, no way.”
Jess exhaled. “Shut. The. Fuck. Up.”
Elaine shrugged. “No midgets invited that I know of, Jess. “ She said. “Lets get some eyeballs before you start ranting again.”
“eeeeyeee balls.” Jason hummed. “Get em while they're squishy!”
Dev reluctantly dismissed the midget, whatever that was, and followed her partner over to a big deep basin, surrounded by some of the other field teams, and stirred by two smiling bio alts.
Jason picked up an abalone shell and plunged it into the basin, pulling it back full of some kind of liquid and several round, bobbing items. “Yum!”
Jess grabbed one too, lifiting it to her lips and slurping some of the contents. “Mm.” She sucked one of the round items into her mouth and bit down on it, chewing vigorously for a minute and then swallowing. “Those are good.”
“They are.” Jason agreed.
Jess plucked a round item out and offered it to Dev invitingly. “Want one?”
Mechanically, Dev reached out and took the thing, feeling it cold and slimy against her palm. “What is it?”
Dev looked at it with a dubious expression. “Can I find the midget and give it to them?”
Jess chuckled. “C'mon, Dev! You've got more guts than that! I know you do.” She popped another one in her own mouth and munched on it. “Just do it.”
With a sigh, Dev resolutely put the round item into her mouth, resisting the urge to smell it first. She closed her jaws and found the item was more elastic than she'd thought, but a little more pressure made it yield and suddenly her mouth was filled with a sweet, cold liquid.
She wasn't really sure what to do with it. Breathing through her nose, she steeled herself, then swallowed, finding the outisde of the eyeball dissolving into gooeyness between her teeth.
“Good?” Jess was watching her intently.
Dev washed the mouthful down with a sip of her beer. “I have no idea what to think about that.” She admitted. “I didn't expect it to be sweet.” She licked her lips. “What kind of eyeball was it?”
Jess slapped her on the back. “Good girl.” She said. “That's my partner.”
Dev eyed her.
“I'ts really a relative of the sea grape, filled with sea grape jelly, and a little food coloring.” Jess relented, her eyes twinkling. “Let's go see if we can get a rock toss win since you don't want to catch fish.”
“So not a real eyeball?” Dev ventured.
Relieved she hadn't consumed some raw animal visual organ, Dev followed her partner over to the toss game area, where the sound of rocks hitting the back wall of the gathering space echoed sharply.
This seemed less odd, and she stood watching for a moment as Jess cleared the net off her long arms and stepped forward. The target appeared to be three small rings, and the rocks that were piled on the table in front of them were of various sizes. She watched Jess carefully select three, then eye the rings.
“Now, let's see if I can actually hit something this time.” Jess took one of the rocks in her left hand and shifted her body angle, then she whipped the stone in a sidearm motion towards the rings. A soft clang echoed, and the ring rocked back and forth then the soft plunk of the rock hitting the back wall was heard.
“Nice!” Jason had come up behind her and now he slapped her on the back. “Do that again and I'll go goblin hunting with ya!”
Jess glowered at him.
“Booga booga!” Jason waggled his fingers in his ears and stuck his tongue out. “Goblin gonna getcha...”
Jess threw her body against Jason's and knocked him into a pile of sticks, which scattered all over the floor.
“Cut it out you two.” Elaine came over. “Jason, knock it off before you end up back in med.”
Jason was laughing, though, and Jess extended a hand to him and hauled him upright. “Sorry Jess.” He said. “You just freaked us all out with that damn story it's hard to forget.”
“Teach me to drink and talk crap.” Jess grumbled, then went back to the target area.
Dev moved the draping away from her face and sipped from her skull cup, glancing up briefly as spiders swung overhead, and gusts of air blew filigree like webbing around and puffed odd and damp wisps against her nose. She watched Jess successfully put another rock through the ring, and then a third, then everyone started yelling things at her.
Confusing. But Jess didn't look upset so she figured it must be all right. One of the bio alts came over and handed the agent a sack, and then Jess was coming over to her to share what was in it with her.
“Mm. Swag.” Jess offered her the sack. “Take some.” She held up one of the items. “Candy, not eyeballs.”
Ah, treats. Dev accepted a handful of sweet drops, and watched in bemusment as Jess took a colorful pin from the sack and with a slight hesitation, after looking around first, pinned it on the drapings over Dev's chest.
She regarded it for a moment. “Is that a gift?”
Jess glanced around, and grinned a little. “Yeah. You like it?” She lowered her voice.
“I like it a lot better than the eyeball, yes.” Dev peered in satisfaction at her new decoration. “Thank you. It's nice.”
Jess bumped against her, then pointed at the far end of the room. “Dead man's dunk. Let's go.” She heard a splash, then grinned. “This is going to be fun.”
Dev amiably followed, trading her skull cup for a second and drinking from it as they approached the splashing, to find a big tank there with one of the agents sitting on a platform, and a tech pitching yet another rock, this time a much bigger one, at a target to one side of them.
“So, the agents go sit on that seat.” Jess explained to her. “Then their tech tries to hit that target and .. “
Further explanation was unecessary when the rock hit the target and the seat the agent was on released and sent them tumbling into the dark water, with a loud yell.
“It's ice cold.” Jess supplied. “Takes your breath away.”
“I see.” Dev looked at the tech, who was being congratuated by fellow techs, and a few of the agents. “We're not going to do this, are we?”
“Don't you want to dunk me in the ice water?” Jess asked. “You'll win a big ass prize. I havent been dunked in years.” She gave the impression of grim satisfaction. “I used to scare Joshua when he started throwing and he never hit anywhere near me.”
“No.” Dev said. “I don't want to make you fall into cold water.” She stated. “In fact, I would rather we go take a hot shower together and go into bed.” She added. “Since you asked.”
“Ah, Devvie.” Jess chuckled. “Okay, so let's get some snacks and we'll go chill out somewhere. Still kinda weird, huh?”
“Want another eyeball?”
Dev was glad to finally get back to her quarters, and remove the cloths from her head and body and fold them neatly away. She felt a little dizzy from the skull cups she'd drunk, and a little tired from all the stunts and crazy things they'd done which however had not included her dunking Jess in ice cold water.
She was quite happy about that. Elaine, Mike and April had all been dunked, and it hadn't looked like it was any fun at all, though the techs got a good laugh out of it.
Jess had ended up winning another sack, and then something else for jumping the highest, and she'd shared all her booty with her partner and so it had all ended up excellent.
She removed the pretty pin from the costume and examined it, admiring the colors. Then she put it away in her cabinet next to the little scent dish, and the abalone shell, and the knife whose hilt had once been the tooth of a walrus all of which Jess had given her in the time she'd been at the citadel.
All presents, all unique, all hers and from the hands of her every day growing more interesting partner.
Jess of course also had some presents she'd given her, including a bracelet she'd made her from tiny transistor parts from the carrier that the agent wore all the time.
She got a lot of teasing about it, but she'd told Dev she didn't care, and every time she sat across from Jess at dinner and saw that around her wrist, it made her smile.
Just like this pin made her smile. Dev touched it, and then closed the cabinet. Then she looked up as the door opened between her and Jess's quarters and revealed a tall, scantily clad figure leaning on the edge of the entrace. “Hello.”
“Hey Devvie.” Jess wandered in and dropped into one of the chairs in her workspace. “Just got back from ops. Had them do a complete bio scan. There's no midget here.” She said. “I checked with everyone, and everything, and no one invited one, none of them came in through the caverns, and none of the guards saw anything.”
“Okay.” Dev had pulled on her tank top and shorts and she sat down next to Jess. “I don't even know what a midget is. I was about to look it up.”
“So what was it you saw?” Jess asked. “Since I know it wasn't a goblin.”
“I don't know.” Her tech answered promptly. “It was just small, and it looked like it was running on it's hands and knees. I thought it was more of the things like the spiders.”
“No.” Jess shook her head. “We've had those spiders for years and years. They got them on the other side before I graduated field school. There aren't any of them that run on the ground.”
“I see.” Dev digested this. “So, what exactly is a goblin then?”
Jess sighed and rolled her eyes. “Figments of my ancestor's imaginations. Just crazy stories they told the kids to keep us from getting too close to the water.”
“You like the water.” Dev objected.
“We all did. That was the point.” Jess said. “They told us if we got caught alone at the edge of the water, that goblins would pull us under. On Halloween, they told us the goblins would come out and lead us to the shore, and drown us, that they were the spirits of all the people who'd been killed by Drakes over the millenia.”
“Just to keep us from hanging out on the rocks alone.” Jess reassured her with a chuckle. “Mostly we didn't, not until we were a lot older, anyway. No one wanted to get caught by goblins.”
Dev pinched the bridge of her nose. “Jess, would it not make sense to just tell you not to go to the water?” She asked. “That's how they always told us to stay safe in the creche. No one said anything about goblins.”
“I know. But we were little kids.” Jess told her. “Really little kids don't get safety. At least at the Bay.”
“We were little kids too, Jess. But no one had to tell us goblins were going to suck us into the disposal.” The bio alt frowned. “We all had basic safety when we were.. I think... three.”
“Well you're a genius, rocket scientist.” Jess reached over and ruffled her hair affectinately. “Me and my sibs were very dumbass little snots who didn't know better.”
Dev still looked doubtful, but she nodded. “So what was the purpose again, of this halloween?”
Jess chuckled. “Back in the old times, this holiday... originally it was about the harvest, but near the end times, it was about the costumes and stuff and kids, you know? They'd go from house to house and the people would give them candy.” She said. “I remember reading about it. And there were pumpkins.”
“Pumpkins? I know what those are. They have them on the bio station.” Dev said. “They would cook them and make things from them. They tasted really good.”
Jess looked woebegone. “Damn. I want to taste a pumpkin.” She sighed. “All we get now is fake eyeballs and spice beer.”
“I will see if Doctor Dan can send some pumpkin cakes.” Dev offered. “I never knew it was to celebrate something, I thought they were just doing things in the lab.”
They both turned as they heard a tiny, banging noise behind them. “What the hell?” Jess got up in a fluid motion and got between the sound and her tech, her muscles visibly tensing under their scant covering. “Did you hear that?”
“Yes.” Dev stayed where she was. “It sounded like something was knocking on the outer door.”
Jess stalked over to the entrance and palmed it, her other hand crooked and held out from her body, apparently ready to do … something.
Dev felt that it was possible she had a little too much beer. She didn't want to get up and see what was going on, she was content to sit there and watch Jess move, her body sliding through the low light in a way that made her want to dismiss knocking and tug Jess into bed instead.
Jess leaned out into the hall, and looked both ways. “Nothing here.” She frowned.
Dev reluctantly got up and went over to the door, peering outside dutifully. “It seems not.” She agreed. “Maybe it was some piece of machinery.”
“Knocking at the door?”
“Maybe it didn't really.” Dev said. “Maybe we just thought it did.”
“Dev we both heard it.” Her partner retorted. “Let's get our suits on.”
A minute later they were popping out the door again, this time in jumpsuits with boots on their feet as they came out into the hall and started down it, Jess in front with her sidearm raised.
“Could only have gone this way.” Jess turned a corner and started down towards the caverns. “Anywhere upstream from our place would trigger an alert.”
She led the way down, passing the cross corridors that would lead to the landing bay, speeding up when she heard the patter of tiny footsteps ahead of them. “Ah hah. Hear that?”
Actually, she had. Dev trotted after her, feeling the air growing colder and damper around them as they went from the roughly regular halls of the citadel to the raw rock of the original mountain it was built into.
She knew where the were going – down to the bottom of the cliff where the water that powered the facility was sucked into the huge turbine tubes and where she had learned to surf in the fast surging sea.
Well, sort of learned to sort of surf. Dev put her hand on the wall to keep from sliding as they entered the cavern and Jess slowed down, moving forward cautiously as her eyes flicked everywhere. She still wasn't much good at it.
It was loud in the cavern. The tide surged through the raceways and Jess paused midway down, looking over the walk wall into the big space, lit by domed flourscent lights high above.
There was motion everywhere, but it all seemed normal and inanimate and Dev could feel the spray of the water misting up and coating her face. Then she sucked in a breath, and grabbed her partner's arm. “Jess, there. Look.”
Clinging to the edge of the rocks was a creature. It had a big head, and tiny arms and legs, and it was staring at them.
“What in the fuck is that.” Jess blurted. She started down the ramp at a fast clip, trying to keep the creature in view as it scrambled down the rocks and headed for the sea. “Hey!”
Dev felt adrenaline chase the beer's fuzziness from her senses as she galloped after her partner, half running and half sliding down the slick rock towards the surfing platform. “Jess! Wait!” She yelled out. “What if it's a goblin?”
“Fuck the goblins!” Jess reached the bottom and bolted across the ground, as the creature kept just ahead of her, turning it's tiny head and laughing as it watched her chase it.
It was small and oddly shaped, unlike anything she'd ever seen and Jess was determined to catch it. She bounded after it, putting aside the sound of Dev's voice yelling after her.
The creature got to the edge of the rocks and dove in to the water, popping up and making a face at her before it turned to swim towards the outer rim.
Jess didn't hesitate. She tossed her blaster to one side and dove after it, feeling the cold, fresh sensation as the sea closed over her head.
She could see the creature ahead of her, and she swam after it, almost catching it as it reached the outer rim where the waves rolled inside. It ducked under and she put her head under the surface, opening her eyes and feeling the extra lid come down allowing her to focus.
She saw it clearly. It was perched at the underledge where the waves entered, and it was beckoning her forward, a nastly little sneer on it's face.
Suddenly, a memory surfaced hard, of a body on the beach, and a sense of sadness, and being in a ring of kids brought down to the sea in witness of this strange story they'd told at the Bay, of children and goblins and dark nights.
She remembered being scared, and how cold it had been, and how the rain had blasted against all of them as they scrambled down the rocks and saw the adults turning towards them, and those grim faces.
She remembered those two children though, a boy and a girl, the boy one of her early playmates, who had disappeared into the water and everyone thought they'd drowned.
Had they? She remembered them bringing back Bobby's body, white and swollen and lifeless, her very first experience of death, and how sad that had made her feel.
She remembered his frozen fingers, his arm stretched out, grasping.
Jess stared at the creature, then she saw it wave her forward, and saw the smirk on it's face as she dove down after it, and then, she was surrounded by glowing eyes and grasping hands that took hold of her, and pulled her and sank with her through the surge and into the darkness.
She saw the triumph in their eyes.
Saw the cruelty.
They held her, intent on drowning her. Jess could see it in their ugly little faces and she reached the bottom of the channel and fell out of the surge into their grasp.
She heard them laugh. Then she let the last of her breath trickle out, and gave a little cough, feeling them move towards her then stop, as she coughed again then sucked in water, submitting to the rush of ice cold into her lungs, and the little shiver as her body reacted to the change and started processing water.
She looked at them and smiled, baring her teeth at the closest one, the one that had hold of her jumpsuit shoulder.
Its eyes popped open wide and it started to scramble back out of the way, heading for a spot on the rocks as she came after him, grabbing out at her little attackers and feeling bones break under her grasp.
They scuttled, she extended a hand, and her fingers closed on it's leg as it tried to get away.
She could hear it scream through the water.
It tugged at her hand and tried to bite her, and she slammed it against the rock, coming to rest with her arms on either side of it holding herself in place with her legs.
They stared at each other, the creature with huge round frog eyes, and Jess with her own protected ones. She sucked in the water and let it out, baring her teeth again at the creature who now tried hard to get away from her, clearly terrified. The rest of them let her go and squirted away, squeezing into holes in the rocks and down out of the channel.
She released the one in her hand, and batted it into the tiny hole on the rock it had been making for, and watched it squeeze through and disappear.
But not quite. It turned and peered out, then turned again and lunged back at her, teeth bared.
She evaded the fangs and caught it around the neck, yanking her hand right then left, and feeling the bones snap as she broke it's neck.
The light went out in it's huge frog eyes. It went still, it's arm outstretched, it's fingers grasping just like Bobby's had.
Jess sat there, just breathing water for a moment. Then she released the creature and watched it drift slowly downward, already attracting the attention of a cod swimming slowly below the current in the dark depths.
Then she smiled and turned, facing the wall of glowing eyes.
No such thing as gobins, huh?
Well, she'd teach them a lesson. Then she'd toss a pile of bodies up on the rocks and make all the agents come down and see em. Teach them a lesson too.”
She planned her attack, but just as she started forward an itch between her shoulderblades made her whirl in mid motion, sensing the sudden interest of the creatures and she spotted a slight form being tossed by the waves heading for the wall.
Oh shit. Jess forgot all about the goblins in a spit instant. Her heart nearly came out of her ears as the blood started pumping and she saw Dev's body slip under the edge of the intake tunnel.
She could hear laughter behind her, even through the water, then hands grabbed her and yanked her back, pulling her against the wall with shocking violence.
Between one breath of water and the next, her vision went red, then stark black and white, and she got her boots aginst the wall and shoved off hard, whirling around in mid water and ripping the hands from her body.
They grabbed. She kicked and punched and slammed her body against the rocks hearing pops and clicks and underwater screams that built to a crescendo and she was finally loose and swimming hard against the current towards that barely seen water tossed form.
There was no screaming for her, with all the water in her lungs. No sound possible, but inside her head all she could hear was a howl of horror more mindshaking than anything she'd felt in her life before.
“JESS!” Dev got the underwater gear on and jumped in the water, holding the fins in her hand as she sank and managing to get them onto her boots before the fast current grabbed her. She got upright and started swimming, driving against the current and moving in the direction she'd seen her partner disappear.
This was not excellent. Dev felt her breathing increase and she grabbed the rocks and pulled herself forward, through the swirling surge that threatened to rip her into pieces.
She felt the waves grab her and yank her backward, then shove her forward and a moment later she was through the chute from the intake and into the deep channel beyond, tumbling over and over as the current pushed her past the rocks and into a whirlpool.
Not excellent at all.
Dev got herself righted and started forward again, only to haul up quickly as she saw Jess's tall form in the green water lit from the halon lights above. Her arms were spread out and she could see her partner's hands tensed into fists as she started for the wall.
Then Dev could see past her, just a little, to a wall she was facing with what looked like a hundred glowing eyes looking back at them, and vaguely outlined figures swarming around her partner.
Oh, really not excellent. She got herself pointed in the opposite direction to go give Jess assistance - and then a wave grabbed her, and she was thrown hard against the edge of the intake tube, almost knocking her mask loose.
Then she was being sucked to one side and she slammed her head against the tube with force enough to stun her, making her lose her grip on the rocks and go tumbling to one side.
Her vision went black, and for a moment she was disoriented, flailing through the water as the racing intake sucked her inward, unable to get herself untangled enough to kick against the flow or grab hold of something to stop herself.
The sound of the turbines suddenly sounded very loud in her ears, and Dev knew a moment of intense fear as she realized where she was and where her tumbling was taking her.
Not good. She tried to kick against the strengthening pull and reach out, her breathing becoming panicked as she knew the path she was on was going to lead to her becoming dead.
Then a hand grabbed her, and she was being yanked backwards and she flailed her arms trying to figure out what was up and what was down and...
A second later and her head was breaking the surface, and Jess was hauling them both up back onto the rocks, landing on her stomach and curling up in a ball as she squeezed the water out of her and got ready to take in air again.
“Jess!” Dev yanked her mask off and blinked the seawater from her eyes. “Jess!”
A couple of coughs later and Jess picked her head up to look at Dev, pulling the rest of her body up and onto the rocks. “Fucker!” She rasped. “Stupid little.. “
Dev patted her. “Are you all right?”
“Am I all right????” Jess spat out a chunk of seaweed. “I wasn't the one in the intake tunnel!”
Dev put a hand on her arm. “Are you?” She asked. “I'm glad you came and got me but I hope you didn't take damage doing it.”
“I'm fine.” Jess coughed again, then sucked in some air. “Just fine.” She got up on her elbows and peered at her partner. “You jump in the ocean for a reason?”
“Yes, because you did.” Dev responded. “And I go wherever you go.”
Jess stared at her in momentary silence. “What?”
“What what?” Dev said. “I said I would go wherever you went. Is that incorrect?”
Water was dripping off Jess's face, and she blinked, scattering droplets of seawater. “It's not correct if you croak.” She said. “One more second and you'd have been sucked into that intake and turned into fish food.”
Dev looked behind her, then back at Jess. “Yes, I realized that..” She said. “It gave me a lot of discomfort.”
“Being in there? I bet.”
The bio alt shook her head. “The thought of being made dead, and not seeing you again.”
Jess cleared her throat and coughed a few times. “Yeah. I wasn't too fond of that thought either.” She finally muttered. “As in I lost my fucking mind trying to get to you.”
“Thank you.” Dev wriggled a little higher onto the rocks. “So, was it a goblin? Did you catch it?” She reasoned her partner would prefer a different subject since she was making that face she did when she was in internal severe discomfort.
Jess felt her heartbeat finally slowing, and the bright red flashes were fading from her vision, the panic that had filled her on seeing her partner in the act of becoming very dead leaving her feeling weak and somewhat lightheaded.
Really, really weird ass feeling. “What?”
“The goblin?” Dev said. “The thing you were chasing?”
Chasing. Enough blood returned to her brain to restore her memory. “Oh.” Jess put her head down on the rocks and let the chill soak the weirdness from her. “It was just some kind of freak frog.”
“Yeah.” Jess felt a warmth on the top of her head, and she moved a little to see Dev nearby, gently touching her. “There's no such thing as goblins, Devvie.” She clasped her companion's hand. “Just a stupid myth I went chasing after.”
Dev regarded her solemnly. “I saw all those eyes watching you.” She said. “Were they all frogs?”
Jess was silent for a long moment. “Yeah.”
The agents gaze shifted and went to the ground. “Maybe. I dont' know.” She admitted. “They looked like frogs.” She paused, then rubbed a bit of the rock with one finger. “They pulled me under the water.”
Dev felt a shiver move through her. “I see.”
“They didn't expect me to be able to breathe it.” Jess said, with a sigh. “I think they wanted me to die. Just like the stories they used to tell at the Bay.”
The bio alt digested that quietly. “Jess. I dont think those were frogs.”
“Probably not.” Her partner put her cheek back down on the rock. “Don't tell anyone about them. They think I”m crazy already, Dev. Maybe we just imagined it.”
“Does that make us both crazy?”
“You're not crazy.”
“Well then, since I saw them, and I also jumped in the water, then if I'm not crazy you aren't either.” Dev concluded. “But I am cold.” She admitted.
“Sorry about that.” Jess exhaled. “Maybe you should rethink that go where I go thing, huh?”
“No.” Dev said. “Since it isn't something I think about it's just something I do.”
Jess sighed and got up, pulling Dev up with her. “Lets go get warm. Screw this stupid halloween stuff.”
She kept her back turned to the back wall deliberately, and they splashed through the shallows and crossed the beach as the roar of the waves slowly receeded.
Hot shower, dry clothes, warm cup of tea. Dev sat quietly at her workspace, tapping information into her input pad, recording everything that had gone on that day. Her head ached a little where she'd banged it against the intake tunnel, but aside from that she was little worse for wear from their adventure.
Jess was sitting up in Dev's relaxation area, just quietly watching something on the screen, content to just be there, hands folded on her stomach and her long legs sprawled on Dev's couch.
Dev had noticed that Jess seemed to prefer to spend time here in her quarters, rather than in the agents. She had no idea why that was, since they were almost identical, but when they were off hours, it usually was here in her space.
She finshed recording her day, then saved her log file, and noticed a message had arrived for her. She investigated, and was delighted to see it was from Doctor Dan.
Dear Dev -
I am still laughing from your note, I'm afraid. I had forgotten what it was like to celebrate the Harvest season in the old way since as you now we don't do that here on station.
The picture of you as a ghost is charming and whatever it was that Jesslyn was dressed as was quite effective, though I am not entirely sure at what. I hope you both enjoyed yourselves, and I will do my utmost to send down a cryopak of pumpkin muffins to you so Jesslyn can have a taste.
Now – as for the serious part. Dev, please do be careful. I know you want to go and do and be a part of whatever Jess does, but she has physical training that you don't and I think from her perspective it would be a terrible thing if something unhappy happened to you. I know she's quite fond of you, as I am also. I want you to be safe, as well as happy.
I know of these goblins, since Jess's father told me something of the same story when I first came to Interforce. I wans't sure what to think about it, as it seemed to be at first a child's tale.
But there always was something a little odd about that myth, and Drake's Bay. I spent a Halloween there once, and there were things I saw that night that I cannot explain in scientific terms. I am not sure what it was you saw tonight, but take care when things like this happen, as there are things in the wide world that old scientists like me really can't explain.
Investigate the term Samhain when you have some time. It's the old Gaelic name for the festival you celebtrated tonight, and if you read about it you will see that the things that Jesslyn told you were closer to history than you might suppose.
Be well, Dev. I believe we might be seeing each other sometime soon
PS – I'm glad they still make those eyeballs. I used to put them down the back of Jess's father's shirt at every opportunity.
Dev read the note three times, each time smiling a bit more. Then she shut down the pad and abandoned her desk, going up the steps to her relaxation area where her partner was. “Jess.”
“Yees?” Jess scooted over on the couch and patted the surface. “Come watch cartoons with me?”
Dev lay down on her side and snuggled up to Jess, wrapping an arm around her as she looked up at the screen. “Is that a cartoon?”
“It's Casper.” Jess turned the sound up a little, removing the ear buds from her ears. “I thought we had some in the library. See? He's a friendly ghost.”
Dev regarded the colorful display. “I didn't look at all like that.”
“Nope.” Jess agreed.
“Doctor Dan is going to send us some pumpkin.” Dev informed her. “And he doesn't think we're crazy.”
“Of course he doesn't. He made you.” Jess put her arm around Dev's shoulders and pulled her closer. “We can send him a spider. Bet he'd like that.”
“I think he likes those eyeballs.” Dev said, mournfully. “He said something about putting them down your father's shirt.”
“Don't get any ideas.”
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