‘For a reality that isn’t stanya…stable, it’s lasting a long time’, MacKensie commented, watching Callane Oberon eat her diet of grubs. Her knack for finding restaurants that could feed them both also ensured he had a descent steak and vegetables so he couldn’t complain.
He was nursing a black eye after interrupting a mugging. Callane had then marched in and proved them too few to take them on. He wandered how good the hospitals were for coping with such injuries that she gave them in this steampunk age.
They had left the Lazy Swan a long while back and switched to commercial ships, occasionally going by land when they couldn’t wait for a connection. Despite the change in reality, MacKensie noted the badger-Fey took everything in her stride. They had been planning what to do when they arrived in England in a month, all forgotten while they found something to eat. The last hop from France without the tunnel hadn’t taken long but the sea had given them both appetites. They weren’t far from Kat’s original training base, figuring that if she could move she would choose a place that they would both remember. The way this steampunk version of the world was right now didn’t guarantee anything was the same.
‘We should go to London’, he finally said. ‘See if we can find anyone who knows what’s going on.’
Callane shook her head. ‘My niece has been here for food.’
There was a long pause.
‘You’re going to tell me?’
‘You’re a dado…a father. Twins. Stay calm, Mac.’
‘I’m more reserved than that.’ This time McKenzie paused. ‘You didn’t talk to anyone here.’
‘Look up at the rafter, Mac.’
On it were three claw marks. One long and two short. Twins.’
‘Couldn’t she just have had an itch to sharpen her claws?’
‘It’s also a sign she’s come looking for us.’
‘Wouldn’t she have told the Maĩitre d’?’
‘It may be a matter of trust.’
‘Or secrecy. We’re pretty close to the military compound where we first met…assuming it’s still there.’
‘We’ll go there after we’ve eaten.’
‘And take some food. Always a good sign to bear gifts although I doubt if I can get any milk substitute here.’
‘About that, Mac.’
‘One of the reasons why we brought Kat here was because it was close to a private zoo that had some tigers’, McKenzie explained as they approached the compound. They had left their horse and trap at the bottom of the hill. In the moonlight, there was plenty of grass so the horse would have plenty to eat. They had looked at the military base from nearby first. Neither of them were sure how it would look although even Callane was acting cautiously. Even if everyone was asleep, this was still Victorian England. It was easier just to walk up to the gates than any subterfuge. They had also changed into clothes more suitable with MacKensie once more in top hat and tails to reflect authority than try to find a military outfit or go as a commoner, although Callane opted to stay in her dress and trousers combination, a brimmed hat hiding the odd darkness around her eyes that came from her animal traits. Both carried large bags.
‘Whoever did this has created a world-wide effect. Even Mary Travers wouldn’t be able to do this.’
‘Or make your Stanya useless to stop it. We may have to kill whoever started this, Mac. Will you be squeamish about that?’
The Blank shook his head. ‘There’s no guarantee that it’s possible or if reality would flip back to normal, Callane. We often speculated as to whether there was any god-like Psionics out there and Sara promised never to recruit any. Mary was the nearest but her reality distortions tend to only affect her. Put in an environment with one, who knows how it would affect her.’
‘Can Mary share?’
‘Not proven. Not in Lancier’s class. Nor Sara’s come to that and they share.’
‘And this possible god-Psionic?’
Mac stopped to think, ‘I hope not. Then again, if he or she has that much power why would there be a need to share? We really need to find out what’s going on and get in on any counter-strike.’
‘The real problem is this is an idealised reality. I haven’t seen any sign of cholera, scarlet fever, measles or deficiencies like rickets and scurvy. I bet you could pop in and say hello to Queen Victoria.’
‘I met her a couple times, Mac. She was curious about Romanies for a time.’
‘What am I not surprised at that.’
‘Be nice to the churo-mengros, Mac.’
The Blank turned as they approached the gate but the badger-Fey was gone, even to the corner of his eye.
The two guards eyed him up, one pointing a rifle in his direction.
‘Halt or we fire!’
‘I’m Cameron MacKensie. I’m a secuir…I have an appointment inside.’
‘With who, sir?’
‘That’s classi…top secret.’
‘You must have the password?’
Behind them stood Callane gesturing a crown to her head and the number three.
Their expression said otherwise as she also pointed at his crouch and gestured shorter.
‘Sorry, long night. Three princes.’
The guards broken into smiles. ‘That saves a lot of time, sir.’
MacKensie tipped his hat.
‘Hope you win your next fight, sir’, as one spotted his shiner.
‘I won that one but, thanks, I’ll duck next time.’
He walked on and the badger-Fey joined him.
‘I’m surprised they didn’t give me an escort. Where to, Callane?’
She sniffed the air. ‘Not the usual quarters. The training ground.’
‘Do they know she’s here?’
‘I am not a seer, Mac.’
‘Let’s hope they don’t check where we go.’
‘You look like a dickimengro…a politician. Since when do the military worry about politics?’
‘Or I can say we…I’ve lost my way.’
In the dim light, MacKensie looked around. ‘Everything’s in the same place but the window dressing is different. Barracks that way. Admin over there. Kat’s training bunkers over here. I doubt if they’ll have lifts down. They might not be off-limits to the men because they are good training grounds and we haven’t been back in a few years…’
Callane reached down and picked a twig off the ground and snapped it.
Looking down from a tree was Kataya Oberon, calmly assessing them. She dropped down from the tree and gave Mac a hearty kiss. Her tiger-tinged hair was even more prominent and she was no longer pregnant.
‘Hello, Kat. You’re not pregnant.’
‘They fine. I smell you. Sar shin, Mac,’ as she inspected his black eye.
The dim light meant nothing to her nocturnal eyes. He knew that was true of Callane as well.
‘Got when we got to England. We stopped a mugging and possible rape and I got hit in the eye.’
‘You should have let Auntie sort it out.’
‘She did. I didn’t duck fast enough.’
‘Auntie hit you.’
‘He was very heroic, Kataya.’
‘Do you think we can see the baby?’
‘Babies. Dui tiknos. That might be difficult.’
‘Even so, the local military know we’re on base.’
‘Fhuh! They change shift. Forget you. Think you officer home late.’
‘If you say so…even so, Kat, we’ve been on the go a long time. We brought food. We can eat and sleep. I can look in on the kids and see them wide awake in the morning.’
‘They still in nocturnal phase, Mac.’
‘I can’t see me getting much sleep.’
‘Let them get your scent,’ Callane added.
There was no lift anymore, but a long stairwell down to the control section.
‘No wonder the military aren’t keen coming here,’ MacKensie commented. ‘I wonder if this reality shifter did all of this randomly.’
‘Had no stranger gorgios, Mac. We safe.’
‘I bet you normally leap down.’
‘Keep you fit, Mac.’
What was the control room was more like a nursery. A couple of the other rooms more bedroom based.
‘You were expecting us?’
The fair-haired Psionic got out of his chair with a big grin on his face. ‘We’ve been waiting for others to get here.’
MacKensie turned to Kat, ‘I thought you said there were no strange gorgios?’
‘He no stranger. He Psionic.’
‘You must be Auntie Badger’, Lancier turned to the other Fey. ‘Kat said you would find her.’
‘You’re not caught under this spell then, Chris?’
‘Oh, definitely, but I had to get away from Max’s spell or rather, we if we were to do anything. Sheena’s off base at the moment. We made it look like we were killed when we stopped a meteorite coming down and hid. Getting here, we found Kat’s…your twins have Blank properties and managed to stay hidden. They seem to encase the area.’
‘We just got back from South America.’
‘It’s world-wide then?’
‘Who’s Max, Mr. Lancier?’
‘Chris please,’ he addressed the badger-Fey. ‘Sara Seeker keeps…kept a number of…er…unstable Psionics on observation. We’ve managed to put some things together. The Pattern fooled him and he attacked her and Libertine Rush and shifted reality to…well, you know what that’s like. Libertine was acting as a private detective but got her memory back and bagged a Gorgon. We haven’t found Sara yet. We need her to find Max before we can do anything about stopping him. Someone else we can’t find.’
‘No one dead?’
‘Petrified. Stheno had to be stopped. We’ve been lucky so far. The Pattern seem more intent in filtrating us than taking advantage of the situation…so far. They can’t think much of the norms.’
‘Maybe they don’t know what happened neither or how to top it,’ MacKensie suggested, before changing the subject and looking around. ‘Where are the babies?’
‘You can’t see them? I thought it was just me and Sheena.’
‘No other Blanks?’
‘You’re the first but if Max could affect you…’
‘They’re down in the compound,’ Callane said. ‘Kataya took them down there to be fed.’
‘Looks like a late barbeque then.’
They continued down the steps to the compound.
‘I’m surprised Max didn’t change this place.’
‘He did. Locations the same but the overall window-dressing flipped. Just what’s there is different.’
‘Above mid-way, Mac. Below more Fey taste. The outside. Fresh air.’
The compound had more Victorian looking buildings.
‘We rigged some gaslight down here. If we can find anyone else free, we have plenty of lodging space,’ Chris added. ‘Your Blank twins seem to be doing fine keeping Max from sensing us.’
‘Sheena still went out?’
‘So have I but a Blank would be handier although we don’t know how safe you are. We need to find Sara. Triangulation hasn’t helped. We haven’t been able to spake or find her.’
‘Where are the twins?’
‘I still can’t see them.’
Callane sniffed and reached down, picking something off the ground. ‘Hello, matcho. Where’s your sister?’
She strolled over to MacKensie. ‘Here, Mac. Your son.’
She tilted a little. ‘It’s probably why you can’t see us. Move until you see him.’
Callane kept moving and suddenly MacKensie’s smile grew, meaning he could finally see his son briefly before fading away again.
‘Only just for a second.’
Kataya approached, ‘This daughter, Mac. Cuddle while we hold.’
‘More a matter of dropping what you can’t see properly.’
MacKensie nodded, holding out his hands, feeling a couple of strong tiny fingers gripping his hands.’
‘Are they nearly weaned, Kataya?’ Callane asked. ‘They grow fast, Mac.’
‘Now you know the problems we have with you, Mac.’ Lancier said. ‘You’re doing even better than me with them. I have to be careful where I walk. I’m finding I can’t even feel their presence. It’s like nothing is here. Sheena has the same problem.’
‘You can touch them?’
Lancier reached out to where Mac was and gently walked his fingers down Mac’s and finally touched the male twin.
‘It always feels odd. Our greatest defence against Max and we have to be careful that the Pattern never get wind of them.’
‘Doubt they would see them, Mr. Lancier…Chris.’
‘Will they always be like that? Could they get any control?’
‘We can’t control the way you can’t always see us, Mac. We exploit it but we have no control.’
‘Invisible kids. That’s a new one. Will they take on animal characteristics?’
‘Early yet, Mac,’ Callane said lifting an apparently empty nothing up into the air. ‘We smell them. They odourless but carry scent.’
‘Here, Mac. Hold him carefully’, Kat said handing him over. ‘What we eating, Auntie?’
‘Fresh meat for us. Burn meat for them.’
‘Business, Mac.’ Lancier finally said. ‘We have the best shield against this Max as long as we stay in range of them.’
‘The family album should be interesting. Business, Chris. You have my attention. Maybe he didn’t shift Sara. Do you know if this is actually a modified version of our reality or a virtual reality?’
‘You know more than me. You’ve just travelled across the world.’
MacKensie shrugged. ‘He must sleep but that doesn’t change anything. Callane suggested killing him first chance we get. I doubt if we’d be that lucky and we could still be trapped in this state.’
‘Eat, Mac.’ Kataya called out.
Lancier scooped various vessels and prepared the meal for himself and MacKensie noted that the Psionic made no judgement on the Fey’s own diet.
MacKensie decided that Lancier must have gotten used to Fey cuisine and joined the two Fey on the ground. Callane had chopped up Mac’s dinner allowing him to eat one handed while his baby son slept on his shoulder. Both Fey devoured raw meat with Callane following it up with a pot of grubs.
Finally, MacKensie spoke, ‘The key to finding and sorting out this Max is Sara Seeker and he’s made sure she’s well away. Is there anyone among the Psionics you’ve seen anywhere near her class?’
‘A new Psionic. Ludomere Shear. Haven’t met her yet. Belongs to the Vampiri. Might be a hybrid. She calls herself a bean counter. If she’s looking for someone, they cross her path. Sounds more like a version of Scobie’s talent.’
‘Not much good if Max stays put. I assume Polly Kettle’s involved.’
‘She was. Gone missing.’
‘Scobie found her by accident. Thinks she’s a Victorian private detective but slowly getting her memory back. About the only good news. If she survived, then so did Sara when they first went after Max.’
MacKensie looked to the two Fey. ‘Any thoughts?’
Callane yawned. ‘Sleep now. Thoughts in morning.’
‘Sounds good to me.’
The next morning, they were all awake at daybreak, having slept up in the bunker. The Fey took turns on guard duty throughout the night. When MacKensie came down to the compound, Kat had her breasts exposed.
‘They’re having breakfast, Mac?’ she said innocently.
Couldn’t we tie balloons to the twins so I don’t bump into them?’ MacKensie asked, kissing her on the cheek. ‘Have you chosen names for them yet or were you waiting for me?’
‘Both. Names chosen to teens then choose own. We think together on them.’
‘From what Callane said, I was thinking you might have had them on meat or at least blood by now.’
‘Barely teething. They drink blood. Need the iron.’
‘You’re taking this in your stride? Has this happened before? The invisibility.’
Kat shook her head. ‘We think again ‘bout gene mix. Zingaeo.’
‘It’s sort of like what happens to the nearly seen Fey meets the Psionic invisible.’
‘Thought you be unhappy, Mac?’
‘We have bigger problems to fry.’ MacKensie said, watching as a trio of eggs floated passed him, heading towards a floating frying pan. ‘Morning, Chris. Vector energy?’
‘This reality isn’t wholly…stable. Scobie seems to flit in and out as well.’
‘Probably gone to Albuquerque.’
‘’Cept she left the Baroness behind. She didn’t even stay with Fernfaire.’
‘What about any of the other heavy hitters like Harbinger?’
‘No sign. I’ve alternated with Sheena looking. Polly has her people out looking as well. It’s a double-edged sword because the Pattern are coming at us all the time. They know who we are. We’ll need the Baroness to jump through all of us to make sure we’re who we say we are.’
‘And there’s no telling if they’ll pose as Blanks.’
‘They won’t. You’re easy not to spot.’
MacKensie gave a brief bow. ‘Glad something hasn’t changed, although Max is strong enough to affect even us.’
‘Almost as though he sees you as Psionics.’
‘Something for another time.’
‘Chocking around the camp. Snaring breakfast,’ Kat said dropping her top but still nursing the babies. She got up and handed each one to the men.
‘Feel for her head, Mac,’ she instructed. ‘Don’t let her bite. Might get carried away.’
MacKensie looked at Lancier.
‘First time I helped, I got bitten. Strong milk teeth.’
‘They sleep for while.’
‘Your wife’s something.’
‘I learnt a while back to back her judgements. I take it we’re also sorting out breakfast.’
‘Mostly for ourselves. They’ll probably be eating raw meat again.’
‘Raw meat good,’ Kat smiled, showing her teeth.
‘Do you think this Max is affecting the twins?’ Lancier asked. ‘I can still see Mac but nothing else. Do you think they might be consciously keeping him and everyone else out? That is might not be a permanent thing?’
‘Reality hasn’t changed in here. Probably a good thing that it hasn’t drawn his attention.’
Kat shrugged. ‘Not important for now. Max not important. Pattern is.’
‘We can vouch for ourselves but vetting everyone is a problem.’
‘And only being able to communicate close-up. We think Max can hear us spaking so we’re having to get used to not doing that but we listen in, hoping he reveals himself.’
‘It feels like a game of chess with some of the pieces able to change sides.’
There were noises behind him and MacKensie looked and saw various plates moving around as other foods were being moved and cooked. Bread being toasted over a fire was slowly rotating. An incredible performance of multiple scooping even from Lancier.
‘My turn to make breakfast. Look, ma, no hands. Totally hygienic. Being around Sheena boosted me again,’ Lancier explained, cheerfully. ‘The main reason she shouldn’t approach Max but boosting everyone else would be useful.’
‘Looks like she’s been around you too much. Is that the reason she’s more absent than you. I thought we were never going to let Sheena do that in case they enjoyed the boost too much? Look what happened when Sara shared with Harbinger.’
‘Rules no good here, Mac,’ Kat interrupted. ‘Need to be broken.’
‘Boosting Fey? Callane will love that. Where is she by the way? What if Sheena boosts a Pattern. We’d never spot them.’
‘It will be a combined effort.’
‘Even so, Sheena needs to pull back. What you need to stop a meteor is going to scare people even more in this steam age.’
‘It’s also keeping us protected. Let’s eat. We have a lot of planning to do.’
During breakfast, Callane returned with some dead rabbits which the Fey ate raw.
‘You’ve gotten used to their habit, Chris?’ Mac watched as Lancier barely looked up.
‘I’m watching through a couple insects overhead, unless Callane wants to make an aperitif out of them.’
The badger-Fey gave a curious look at the Psionic. ‘Your aura is darker.’
‘The Booster Rooster effect,’ MacKensie told her. ‘I’m not sure if I like all the Stable here getting a boost but if it makes it easier for you to spot them, we can track Sheena.’
‘You lose Sheena Ramone, Chris?’
‘She late.’ Kat added.
‘Maybe she’s found something.’
‘Plenty to choose from, Mac.’
‘How late, Kataya?’ Callane asked slowly.
The tiger-Fey paused and her eyes glazed and froze.
‘How long, Chris?’ Callane addressed the Psionic, who’s eyes also glazed over and all the things he was holding by telekinesis fell to the floor.
‘What’s happened, Callane?’
‘What you said about Sheena Ramone, Mac. I visited the military unit upstairs. Similar dark auras. Routine activities but totally oblivious even when I dropped something.’
‘But they probably wouldn’t even spot you.’
‘See if they spot you. They be all right, Mac. By the time we return they’ll back to normal.’
MacKensie followed Callane up into the daylight. The red of their uniforms was typical of the English military of Victoria’s era.
‘What do we do if they spot me?’
‘Take their salute. Lie about the rest.’
The platoon was moving around as breakfast was still being served. The badger-Fey nudged him to enter the officers’ mess.
‘Who are you?’ an inquisitive sergeant asked.
‘Major MacKensie. Here to see the commanding officer.’
‘Sir. Follow me.’
MacKensie followed, aware that Callane was beside him but totally oblivious to anyone else unless she caught the corner of anyone’s eye.
‘Colonel Selway, sir. Major MacKensie.’
The Blank took his salute and then saluted himself to the colonel.
‘Sorry for being late coming to your attention, Colonel. I arrived late last night. My orders were to barrack with any military unit while I make my way to London.’
Callane handed MacKensie a blank piece of paper who handed it over. The Colonel looked at it and handed it back.
‘Will you stay for breakfast, Major?’
‘I’ve eaten, Colonel. Have you met any of my fellow officers. Lancier? Ramone?’
‘Yes, sir. Another major. Sheena Ramone.’
‘Dashed all, sir. A female in the army.’
‘We are an intelligence unit, Colonel. A woman can go where we can’t and I don’t look good in anything but a kilt. Did she leave a message for me, sir?’
Selway looked at his adjutant. ‘Bill?’
The man next to the colonel pulled an envelope from his briefcase. ‘I was told to hand this to anyone who asked after Miss Ramone and then keep it for anyone else, sir.’
MacKensie casually looked around. None of the other officers were paying attention to them. He looked briefly at Callane, who had a smile on her face with the realisation that she had already read it.
‘Stable Constitute: Am boosting Lancey and Stripsey too much. They won’t do anything ‘til I get back. Too eager to do anything, so spiked them. Sanctuary here. Action in London. Seek Pollyput. Luv. SR’
MacKensie noted the date and put the letter back in the envelope and handed it back to the adjutant. ‘Please provide this letter to whoever asks for Miss Ramone in future please.’
They returned salutes and left, seeking out a quiet place to talk.
‘I thought Sheena might have gone rogue again but it looks like the invisible twins spooked her. They might even become visible outside of her boost.’
‘Knew something was up when Kataya never offered to let me wet nurse for her. I thought her dukker.’
MacKensie gave a look and shook his head. The Fey were ageless. ‘Kat’s in safe hands with Chris and the best protection. Looks like Sheena did a spike number on the troops as a first line of defence. We’ll be forgotten now as well.’
‘You want to stay with your family, Mac?’
‘As much as I would, I think we’d both do as Sheena says. Do a Dick Whittington and head for London.’
‘Kataya would say the same. You act responsible, Mac.’
‘I learnt it from the Fey. Shall we?’
Cameron MacKensie, Callane Oberon, Auntie Badger
Kataya Oberon, Chris Lancier
all rights reserved
ask before borrowing
© GF Willmetts 2019
Dickimengro overlooker, overseer
Dui tiknos two babies
Gorgio a non-gypsy
Matchko female cat
Sar shin How are you?
Zingaeo mixed blood
Spiking mind control