A Photographic Novella in Twenty Episodes 1
Text and Makeup by Jennifer Broome
Photography by Allie Mullin
ÂŠ2012. All Rights Reserved 2
‚Nihil est ut videtur‛
Thwump! Thwump! Thwump! Thwump! Mina, Hatter, Tatter, and the Derkling Queen dropped into space for only a moment before they were arrested by a sort of landing stage. It was simultaneously pillowy and springy, and all four were unhurt. ‚Well, I’m happy to see that particular invention works,‛ said a voice. Mina swiveled her head in an attempt to locate the body attached to the voice. The voice continued, ‚Give me a moment to dissipate the miasmic vapors and you’ll be able to stand.‛ 4
Soon, the cloud-like substance began to recede and the four were able to right themselves.
‚That’s better,‛ commented the voice. It seemed to be coming from behind a table piled with flasks, retorts, tubing, and other scientific detritus on a raised section of floor. The voice moved from behind the table to the front of the platform. Mina couldn’t tell if the woman
attached to the voice was a Philomorph or if she was simply wearing protective goggles. This puzzle soon ceased to occupy Mina’s mind, as Hatter shrieked, ‚Traitor!‛ and began to move towards the woman. The stranger seemed unperturbed; she leaned back towards the table and flicked a lever. Hatter’s progress was halted instantaneously. Hatter looked around, perplexed.
‚Reverse-adhesion surface-tension flooring via electrical fields with a soupçon of rare-earth magnetism thrown in for good measure,‛ the woman explained, staring at Hatter. ‚No longterm effects, but you won’t be able to move until I depress the lever. So just stop thinking about killing me and explain why you’re here.‛ From her new statuary position, Tatter tried vainly to look menacing. ‚Yer alive, yer bleedin’ defector!‛ Mina, taken aback by Tatter’s announcement, blurted, ‚You’re the spy! You’re the one who betrayed the Philomorphs!‛
The woman snapped her eyes towards Mina, and in that moment became as immobile as the rest of the group. ‚Mina?‛ Mina was shaken. ‚How do you know my name?‛ The woman shook her head. ‚That is…unimportant. What is vital right now is to 10
get the three of you out of my lab and make sure you can never come back.‛ ‚No, what is vital is that you tell me how you know my name and why you’re trying to kill us,‛ retorted Mina. ‚I have no intention of murdering anyone. However, it seems your friends do intend to do me as much harm as possible.‛ Hatter growled in response.
‚You should not have come,‛ The woman continued, then turned towards the Derkling Queen. ‚Nerezza, why did you allow them in your domain? You knew better, surely.‛ The Derkling Queen looked markedly less regal than normal. ‚We were trying to send them away, but then she‛—an accusing finger was pointed at Hatter—‚spake the code and the 12
floor retracted.‛ The Queen stood stiffly and seemed to regain her usual air of disdain. ‚Why thou persists in employing such a treacherous phrase is beyond the compass of our wits. We could have warned thee this would happen one day. Now let us up from this floor. We don’t care about the others, but thou art still here under our sufferance.‛ The woman grinned ruefully. ‚Sorry, Nerezza, it’s all one piece. If I let you go, the others could move as well. So you’re stuck—literally—until I can figure out what to do.‛ Mina thought fast. ‚Whoever you are—you still haven’t told me—you have some of those Derklings fly in, then carry us out of here without anyone getting hurt. We’re looking for the Alchemist, and we found you by mistake.‛ 13
The woman shook her head. ‚That won’t work. First, the Derklings won’t come down here; they’re scared of the lab. Second, you already know where my laboratory is, which defeats the purpose of hiding it. And finally, it wouldn’t do any good for you to leave, because you’re talking to The Alchemist.‛
‚Indeed, Mina,‛ the woman continued calmly, ‚nothing is as it seems.‛ *** ‚So yer real,‛ Tatter said flatly. ‚Figures the two most hated people in the bleedin’ Realm are the same woman.‛
‚I think that’s an exaggeration. Most feared, certainly. Most hated? I’m sure there have been others to take that title since I disappeared.‛ The Alchemist peered closely at Tatter. ‚What are you doing here anyway, Cassiopeia?‛ ‚Don’t. Call. Me. Cassiopeia.‛ ‚What should I call you then?‛ ‚How about yer bleedin’ worst nightmare?‛ The Alchemist laughed. ‚That’s a little long. Come now, either tell me your new name or I’ll call you Cassi—‚ ‚TATTER!‛ Tatter shouted.
‚Fine. Tatter it is. How very apropos.‛ The Alchemist smiled frankly. ‚You know, I always did think you were underrated. I never knew why they didn’t employ you in intelligence during the war.‛ Tatter began to spit out a string of profanity that was impressive in both its breadth and complexity. Mina counted seven different languages before Tatter ran out of breath. ‚Yes, yes,‛ said the Alchemist. ‚You’re not fond of me. I know. What I do not know is that you’ve spent the past seventeen years hunting me. That’s a tad obsessive even for you.‛
Mina spoke. ‚They haven’t. They came to help me after The Professor was murdered.‛ The Alchemist paused. ‚Jabir is dead? Who murdered him?‛ Mina was taken aback. ‚I thought you did. The last thing he said to me before he died was to find you.‛ 18
The Alchemist sighed. ‚That wasn’t because I killed him, Mina. He wanted you to find me for another reason, even though we’d had several fights about it in the past.‛ ‚You fought about me?‛ Mina asked. At the same time, Hatter broke in. ‚You were in communication with him for seventeen years and
he never told us? Was he the one who helped you escape?‛ The Alchemist sighed. ‚No, no, no. I haven’t talked to Jabir since I fled. We fought about everything before that. It’s a rather long story…‛ Tatter interrupted, ‚Well, we’re bleedin’ stuck ‘ere until yer done wiv us, so yer might as well spill whatever yer got to tell.‛
The Alchemist nodded in acknowledgement. â€šI suppose I owe Margaretha that much,â€› she said, nodding at Hatter.
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