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Chapter 37: The Scram Gang

BugleHead leaned further forward over the carved stone tablet. The mermaid, just the other side of him, suddenly narrowed its black, marble-like eyes. Fast as a striking snake, it reached out to grab the satyr's leg.

Even faster the harpy, Dark flowed forwards. A black ax appeared in her hand. The blade sliced through the mermaid's forearm like a wire through wet clay.

The mermaid screamed. They all undulated backward in the water in an ungainly flurry of flesh. Only once submerged in the water was their grace and efficiency to their escape


The gray, hairless hand and wrist of the mermaid lay on the beach.

"It was on the island, out of the water," Dark said is a cold and sibilant voice. "So it is ours." She picked it up and began to chew loudly on the cut end.

The carved stone lay on the beach just under the water.

Storm shuffled forward. "It is in the water, so it is still theirs. But if their calf has a calf, let them try to claim it. Sister Swift, bring some charcoal and split wood."

It was decided that HerbGuild was best trained to make the rendering, having experience making records of the appearance of medicinal plants. She took pains to mark a grid and transfer every element with great care. By the time it was done it was growing dark, and mermaid's heads were bobbing in the water just offshore, waiting for their chance,

"This is as good as I can do," the gryphon said.

"And it is well done," Swift replied. She looked out over the rippling water. "We will freely offer our protection if you will stay with us tonight."

"And I would make a copy of our own," Storm added. " I think I can manage it under good light and with time enough. The nature of a peril this grave cannot be kept a secret from any of the people of Mirth."

HoneyBeard pulled BugleHead away from the water yet again. He had become preoccupied with collecting pretty shells and seemed to keep forgetting that death lurked in the water.

"You are lucky that you are my favorite idiot," HoneyBeard said.

"Really? That's so sweet."

The followed the others inland and into the trees.


"I don't believe that at all," Phyllis said.

Nelda tried to shrug, but lying on her front was giving her back pain. "It's what I have to say, and I think I've used about nine of the ten minutes we have right now. So, maybe bring your questions tomorrow. All I want now is a blanket and a burrito. If you bring me a good plan by lunchtime tomorrow good and well, otherwise I'll be coming up with one of my own."

Phyllis started at her belligerently, but if Nelda hadn't been an alpha bitch before a week on another world, without coffee, had finished the job. She didn't blink.

"All right," Phyllis said. "Let's see what we can do. Reg, get your mind out of Nelda's cleavage, such as there is, for a second and take Nelda to the caf, void Manny, come up with a plan to get the other-worlder out. Tyrone, see if you can work out if there is some way what she said could be true and find out when we could get to the Porter. Well be back together at noon sharp, and you need to know by then, if there is somewhere to go, are you going? Hmm. Deep down you already know the answer but at Shakespeare wrote, this is the time to screw your courage to the sticking place."

Reg snorted at the use of the world 'screw'.

Phyllis rolled her eyes. "Now scram."

Nelda's opinion of Phyllis was flip-flopping. She was kind of dismissive of a lot of people and bossy. But she was right to have a system and a plan, not just blather on about things.

[But if the most significant risk to Mirth is humans, can I really let even more humans go there?]

So far all she had told them was that there was another world, it was based loosely on Greco-Roman myth, everyone spoke modern English, and they were like most people—some nice and some… ate people.

But she did not miss the glint the eyes of her audience when she uttered words like dragon, satyr, and centaur.

[This stuff is like nerd crack. They want to believe me.]

Tyrone led her on another orienteering trek. This brought her to a stuffy space. It was warm enough but a hard concrete floor. [And no burrito.]

"Hey," Nelda said. "Are you okay."

"What do you mean?"

"When I… ported, portaled, whatever. You fell. You were still down the first time I came back."

"Oh, that." Tyrone seemed embarrassed. "I have a seizure disorder. When I came to Prof just complained about me 'cluttering up the place.'"

"Wow, harsh. If he hadn't yelled at me to put the fuze in none of this would have happened."

"Not necessarily. I have a theory."

"Really? What is that?"

Under the influence of her sincere interest, Tyrone blossomed like a nerdy little science blossom. "Prof had a good idea maybe forty years ago. And while he was just faking it recently I tried to adapt his plans to make as much sense as possible." He gulped. "I mean, I changed just about everything, And then I wondered, what if the final ingredient was a biological sample."

"What kind of biological sample?" Nelda asked suspiciously.

Tyrone's face flushed. "Just… whoever touched the fuse. Maybe you? And it's not just biology. have you heard of morphic resonance?"

"But…" Nelda's mind raced. [I touched the fuse, sure. But also…] "Brenda. My supervisor Brenda touched it more. And she's the fantasy fan. This twisted Tolkein shit… oh god. Did the portal find her a world—"

"Or did it create it?" Tyrone added. "Since the moment you mentioned mythical creatures, that's what I have been wondering. Did the Porter connect to… I guess Brenda, and make exactly the kind of word she would want to go to."

"Brenda wouldn't want to just go to a world. She would want to rule it.

[And if she couldn't rule it… she just might destroy it.]

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