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Dressed To Kill

Steed's Tale - "Dressed To Kill" - Chapter 04

Journal of Prince "Major" Jonathan Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Rain Donaldson
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr. in 1997-1998.
Steed's history was written in 1994.

"Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state,
need to be avenged by agents extraordinary..."


Bar
Episode A4-4 - The Springers (a.k.a. Getaway, Getaway, Getaway All)

In which Steed gets a shampoo 
... and Emma gets brainwashed.

The rest of the ceremony went without mishap. The festivities went on for a long time, I won't bore you with the niggle details. When the last formality was completed, everyone left to attend other parties. Our party was invited to the inner circle of House Sawall activity. Flora disappeared into the crowd, with almost a childlike wonder and boundless determination.
I had a rather short conversation with Blazer, asking if my Palamino served him well. It did, and he was enjoying the quiet life of the Amber Royal Navy. He preferred peeling potatoes and other relaxing activities. I decided to wish him well and move on, quickly. I talked with several Chaosians, mostly ones who were curious about Amberites. I was charming and civil, without saying or promising much. By the way, the Chaosian wine was superb.
I decided to chat with Suehprom. Morganth is elsewhere, regrettably. Morganth was planning to traverse the Logrus. I ask Suehprom how he has been. He has been trying to remain incognito, since the mishap in the TARDIS. Apparently, the Doctor had shot him with a dart that infected him with some disease before a teleport spell dumped him over the Abyss. He neutralized the disease, shifted some wings, and flew back to the Rim. He remained in hiding since, until he found out about the coronation.
He thought that taking the Logrus would be the solution to many of his problems. I reminded him of the period of madness that usually follows, but he was unconcerned about losing his mind - again. I didn't pursue it any further. As with Blazer, there is such a thing as learning too much. I asked if he found a sponsor for walking the Logrus. He said no and asked if I would. Since the Pattern and Logrus don't react well to each other and I am not familiar with the Logrus, I declined. However, I suggested we ask someone who could suggest a course of action. I also offered to sponsor him if he wished to walk the Pattern.
Suehprom was interested but not in the Pattern, so we went in search of Ambassador Hershall. I found him surrounded by a host of people who were asking for audiences with various House Sawall members. Now that Merlin is King of Chaos, I would guess everyone wants an audience with Merlin.
I position myself in Hershall's line of sight, tip my hat, and smile broadly. He sees me and has a look of relief. He makes his excuses to break away, suggesting that they sign his appointment book and leave their Trumps. He will talk to them in that order.
Hershall breaks through the crowd and smiles. We embrace as brothers. He escorts us to a private chamber where we can talk without interruptions. "Steed, thanks for the save. They 'all' want an audience with King Merlin, it has been like this for days. I needed this break to think of other things. Nice costume, Steed; I didn't recognize you at first."
"Thank you, Hershall. Flora designed it from a period in Shadow Earth history. It was all the rage during the French Revolution, except the peasants were executing nobility. There was a group of English noblemen who tried to save as many nobles as possible: the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Thus, this attire."
"Shadow Earth, yes. I haven't been there in ages. I think that period is now referred to as the Dark Ages. There was little technology then and too much superstition. We left after Chaosians were hunted down, they weren't overly fond of our Chaos forms."
"Yes, things have greatly changed since then. Unfortunately, Chaosian demon forms still tend to scare the locals. Oh dear, where are my manners? Hershall, allow me to introduce Suehprom. Suehprom, you have the distinct privilege or meeting Ambassador Hershall of House Sawall." They shake hands and exchange pleasantries. I continue. "Ambassador Hershall is the passe-partout to House Sawall; destined to be Head Ambassador of Chaos, unless I miss my guess." I turn to Hershall. "Maybe it will finally provide you the opportunity to visit us in Amber. You 'know' who Random will appoint as your tour guide, unless you prefer me to find someone more to your tastes."
"You are too kind, Steed. I will give it some thought. It would give me a break from this." He spreads his arms. "However, I always have time for family and those who want to talk with me; not just to talk to someone else."
"Of course, Hershall. For myself, I enjoy exchanging stories with you. It gives me a fresh perspective on things. I 'still' owe you a tale about the Abyss. I was unfortunately also seeking advice for Suehprom as well."
He looks at Suehprom. "Advice like opinions, are free for the asking; they are also worth the price. How may I serve?"
Suehprom explains his search for his parents. I point out the obvious similarity in name to Lord Suehy. I also noticed, quite some time ago, that his name is spelled Morpheus backwards. I have kept that to myself, others may notice that or not. It suits him quite well, as a well practiced shape shifter. In the Corridor of Mirrors, he learned of his dual heritage, which is much like Merlin. It is unproven yet, since he has taken neither the Pattern or the Logrus. He also tells Hershall of his desire to gain the Logrus and that he is a shape shifter; but he doesn't have a sponsor yet.
Hershall gives it some thought. "We can perform some blood tests to narrow the search. Someone can be assigned to search the Hall of Records for some clues. The records are extensive but not guaranteed. The Logrus is a good idea, like the Pattern; using the powers to aid in the search. A sponsor is necessary; one who has Logrus and one who has your safety in mind. It requires one who is powerful enough to rein in an insane shape shifter." He is silent for a moment. "There may be some Sawall family members who may be willing; however, they may require some service or bonding to the family." He turns to me and smiles. "We have many 'adopted' family members throughout Shadow. We are as fond of them as we are of our own."
"Thank you, milord. You are too kind." I smile back.
"I would be willing to take on the task myself, except my duties are becoming more overwhelming." We discuss some options and Hershall plans to contact me if he can arrange something. He has to get back to work and he plans to Trump me later for the tale of the Abyss. He tells Suehprom that if he is interested in an audience with Lord Suehy, it has to be arranged through Lord Bances. He is the High Priest who performed the ceremony for King Merlin. Hershall is not involved in contacts through the Chaosian church; the Church of the Serpent.
Hershall and I embrace and he returns to his duties.
I asked Suehprom if he has a set of Trumps. Unfortunately, his were destroyed over the Abyss. I will check with Morganth later, if I can find him. I tell Suehprom of my plan to leave Chaos soon to rescue Emma. He expressed interest in coming along. He was curious about how I ended up in those rags earlier. So, I explained our expedition to the Ministry headquarters to ask Mother for a special dart gun and the amnesia drug. I described our capture and my subsequent escape from the Village.
He seemed very interested in tagging along. He was certain that he could generate a variation of the amnesia drug, by shape shifting some specialized glands. Shape shifting may be interesting and beneficial, but I prefer the form I was given. My body heals quickly enough. That did give me an idea how it may have been created though. The lab in the Ministry was unable to synthesize it. It may be because it is biochemical in nature, possibly benign in many Shadows. Yet, at least on Shadow Earth, it has the property of causing temporary amnesia. The duration is determined by the amount of the drug. It must be like snake venom, a specific combination of toxins that react with specialized nerve endings or brain cells; not as a poison but as a drug.
Could Flora have had a shape shifter create this drug? Quite likely, since Suehprom thought it would be possible to do; and she probably doesn't want to have her source exposed. All the more reason to find it. The dart gun is not important. I know another method that will work.
During the Cold War, the Soviet KGB was using umbrellas, with the tip hollowed out. A drug was in a pellet that was imbedded subcutaneously, by jabbing the victim with the tip. The toxins they used were fatal in a short period of time. I have something different in mind.
I search for Flora. A short search, actually. She is surrounded by a host of gentlemen trying to get and keep her attention. I position myself in her field of vision and motion to her. "Do you have a minute? I won't keep you long."
She looks disappointed. "Sorry gents, duty calls." She nods and points to an open area. "Yes, Steed. What is it?"
"I would like to leave for awhile; a quick graceful departure. I doubt if anyone will notice my absence. Do you have a Trump of Shadow Earth? I would like to get some suitable clothing first."
"If you must. Contact me when you are ready to return." She withdraws a Trump and passes it to me, a Trump of herself. I ask about other Trumps; she either doesn't have or is unwilling to give them up. Including possibly a Trump of Emma, a simple no was the only response. She withdraws another and focuses on it. "Are you ready? Georgio will arrange things." A rainbow shimmer appears.
"Thank you, mother." I reach through and clasp someone's hand, and clasp Suehprom's hand. We step through to a hair salon. The smell of chemicals used for permanents and various perfumes assail my nostrils. We are greeted by a stereotypical hair stylist. "Hello. You must be a friend of Flora. I am so pleased to meet you."
"Hello, Georgio. I am Steed and this is Suehprom." Suehprom is dressed quite well and doesn't need to change to blend in. "I would like to get a fashionable suit, have my hair done, and be ready for travel."
"I can see why she sent you to me." Georgio looks at me as if he has a long day ahead of him. I take off my powdered wig and show him my real hair. "Much better."
To quote an often used expression of Random: 'Why me, Unicorn?'
I learn that we are on Barker Street in Los Angeles. "Given your current situation, I will arrange for a tailor while I work on your hair. Leave everything to me." He guides me to a chair and sends an assistant to bring the tailor. Soon, I am getting a shampoo and a shave. A tailor arrives, takes my measurements, and departs. A manicurist arrives to work on my nails. A tray is brought in with glasses of wine and cheeses. Quite a rare vintage. I quite like this place.
With a glass in my hand, I receive a Trump contact. It is the Doctor. He quickly explains to me that the TARDIS is falling into the Abyss, which I already knew. However, he is concerned that the buffers or dampers are weakening and there may be another incident with the Eye of Harmony. I get the distinct impression that he is talking down to me, so that I understand the high tech language. Splendid, I take another drink. To avert this, he wants to pull it back using a Trump Gate. Risky, I know that much. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the power necessary to retrieve it. Bottom line, he wants me to give him a boost with Pattern energy. Tricky, but possible. Since it seems to be a reasonable request, I agree. I bring up the Pattern and he activates his Trump Gate. I focus the Pattern energy and funnel it through to the Doctor. The Pattern does the job. The TARDIS disappears from the Abyss with a flash of light but it doesn't appear next to the Doctor. I stop the flow of energy. He closes the Trump Gate.
:Were you successful, Doctor?:
:No, but I think it will work anyway.:
:Is it out of the Abyss?:
:Yes. It looks like I owe you one, Steed.:
"My pleasure, Doctor. I have to get back to my shampoo and rinse.:
:Right.: He doesn't sound like he believes me. :Thanks for the use of the Pattern.:
:Certainly.: We close contact. I drop the Pattern. I kept it active during contact with the Doctor; Pattern defense would have protected me somewhat if he planned some treachery. The Doctor must think I am some incredible fop with impressive power at my disposal. It must really gall this new Doctor not to have it. I miss the old Doctor.
Suehprom must have noticed something odd. "What happened, Steed? You looked as though you were concentrating on something."
"I was in contact with the Doctor. He needed help getting the TARDIS out of the Abyss. He was concerned about the buffers or dampers regarding the Eye of Harmony. He asked for the use of some Pattern energy." We discussed the situation but were unable to resolve any inconsistencies. My input was lacking since I wasn't there when the TARDIS exploded earlier. Suehprom's views are slanted because he doesn't approve of anything the Doctor (or Master) is involved in. "The TARDIS is out of the Abyss, but I don't think even the Doctor knows where it is; since it didn't appear at his end of the Trump Gate."
"Do you remember who is in the TARDIS?"
"I recall that Creed is there, even if he is in a jet black form. Gabriel should be there as well. The Doctor took him to be treated for a chest wound. Kesa followed him there to help. I am not aware of anyone else." Mental note: any Trumps from Creed, Kesa, or Gabriel may be from the TARDIS. Be wary Steed, their location is unknown and you don't wish to join them.
"Steed, you have the uncanny ability to be Trumped at the wrong time."
"That appears to be my curse. When I 'need' to contact someone, I usually don't reach them. I have been hoping that Emma would try to reach me through Trump. If she is in the Village, Trumps may be blocked. By the way, Kat was trying to reach you earlier. Someone named Citten wanted to talk to you. They were both rather cryptic."
He sounded rather happy that Citten was still around. I didn't pursue it further. It was more information than I really wanted to know. 
Georgio listened to our conversation and waited for us to stop talking. As he cuts my hair, I could have sworn I heard him say. "You Amberites must lead such interesting lives." It must have been my imagination.
My hair turned out splendidly. He went to a lot of effort to make my hair style identical to what it was months ago, the way I like it. Slightly wavy, well trimmed sides and back, and combed back in the front. Flora must have provided him 'some' idea on how the hair should look. "Georgio, it is a magnificent job. Thank you."
In less than two hours, the tailor returns with a dark tweed suit. It fits perfectly and feels better than anything I have worn for days. I examine the cut of the suit, smiling broadly; thanking the tailor for such excellent quality. I affix my carnation to the lapel and tap my bowler into place.
I thank Georgio, I feel like a new man. He tells me he will put it on Flora's account and to stop by anytime, handing me a business card. My Scarlet Pimpernel costume has been folded up and placed in a leather briefcase, which I now have to carry along. We leave the salon.
As we leave the salon, I spend only a minute to memorize this location. I expect that I will need Georgio's services again later. I bring up the Pattern and focus upon the object of my desire; the divine Emma Peel. I head for a nearby alley, down Barker Street, and force my will upon Shadow. I shift as we turn down the alley. After a few shifts, we are on a road surrounded by woods.
It looks quite familiar because it was my departure point from the Village when I Trumped out. I have no way of knowing how much time has passed since I left. However, I venture a guess that it has only been hours. I ask Suehprom about potential resources at his disposal, excluding shape shifting. He doesn't use magic, so spells are out of the question. He doesn't have Trumps, Pattern, or Logrus. Well, adapt and survive; his shape shifting should be sufficient. Although, Morganth would have come in handy. A few well placed spells would have set the Village on its end.
I suggest that Suehprom disguise himself as a local, dressed as a prisoner. I sketch a button, No. 125. He shifts his clothing; black slacks and a black and white horizontal striped shirt; sporting his new number. "Where is your number, Steed?"
"They know me as No. 9. It is not appropriate to wear a button on 'this' suit. Really! Besides, I don't play their little game very well." I feign being insulted, checking my tie and collar. "For your cover, I will escort you back. You should know better than to try to escape from the Village, No. 125. Ready?" I set the briefcase on the side of the road, I will find it later.
I make the last shift which puts us on the road to the Village. There is no welcoming party and the monitors are still inoperative. There is no sign of Rover or search parties. I walk down the road with a jaunty step and twirling my brolly, with Suehprom following in tow. The monitors in the Village are still active, that way they think it is a isolated problem.
We walk to No. 2's residence in the Green Dome. The doors open for us. We enter and walk down the ramp. No. 2 was seated and turns to see us. I maintain my Pattern awareness.
He rises and walks up to us. "Hello, No. 9. Who is your companion?"
"Hello, No. 2. This is No. 125. I ran into him down the road. He was running, apparently to leave the Village. I convinced him that it was a bad idea to escape that way. Since I was returning from my walk, I explained there was nowhere to run to in that direction. So, I escorted him back. There are other avenues to explore first."
"Very impressive, No. 9; considering No. 125 is a female."
Blast. So much for bare facing our way in. "I must have been mistaken, it must have been 126." His button changes to the new number.
"I'm not so old that my eyes are playing tricks on me. Where did you disappear to, for over an hour?"
"As I said. I decided to go for a walk, the weather was quite agreeable. As you can see, I haven't escaped. I even climbed a tree to get a better look, that is probably why you didn't see me." I extend my awareness to continue my search for Emma; seemingly at a lower level, deep into the complex. I focus my attention on the monitors, causing them to malfunction. James will be cut off from others.
"So, what brings you here? That is, besides returning a prisoner we didn't have."
"Idle curiosity, actually."
"You know what they say about idle hands."
Better the devil you know. "Precisely." I step toward him and he backs up, not knowing what I am doing. He takes a defensive posture, he still doesn't know the monitors are shut off. I look at No. 2, making eye contact. I am forcing mind to mind contact, more difficult without touching him. He has a very strong will. "James, there is someone I wish to see. You will take me there."
"I can take you there."
"You 'will' take me there."
"I will take you there."
James is fighting to regain control, but I reign him in. He is tricky, he will be difficult to keep in line. Part of our training over the years was techniques in preventing mind control. My psyche as an Amberite is considerably higher than a normal human, but James is not a normal human. He is a highly trained and experienced secret agent.
"James, I would really like to stay and enjoy the hospitality of the Village. However, there are other things I must do first. Once we are out of here, I will no longer be your problem."
"I don't know 'how' you are doing this, Steed. Even if you leave here, you will still be my problem."
When I get closer to establish physical contact, he backs up. My control would be complete if I was in direct contact. James must somehow guess that.
Suehprom echoes my unspoken thoughts. "Does No. 2 have any weapons on him?"
"I'm sure he will cooperate in handing them over. After all, we don't want anyone hurt. Is that correct, No. 2? Just throw them over there." I motion to a computer console desk.
He is struggling for control, but tosses his Walther PPK away. I point to his jacket pocket. He takes out an ordinary looking pen and tosses it away. I point to his ankle. "Boot knife, James." He removes his boot knife and adds it to the pile. "Thank you, James. Whether you believe it or not, I am not here to hurt anyone. I don't even care about closing down your little prison, you are welcome to it. I only came to retrieve my partner, as you expected. I did not come here with guns blazing. I'm sure you would have preferred that. Guns are so...noisy and messy. As to how I am doing this, it is a family secret. One that I am normally loathe to use. It is so...invasive. Don't you agree?"
Suehprom takes the weapons and puts them into his jacket. "This will keep the weapons out of everyone's hands." I notice that the pocket doesn't bulge, I am sure James noticed it as well.
I lean on my brolly and motion for James to move. "Thank you, No. 126. Now, No. 2, would you please be so kind to take us to the 'real' Mrs. Peel? Your substitute was very good. However, I 'know' the genuine article and she is nearby on a lower level from here."
James has a troubled look, he is curious how I 'know' where she is. "Very well."
"No. 126, feel free to assist. This is like maintaining a Trump contact and James is very tricky. I like him...cooperative." I feel a slight mental surge and my control improves a bit. I feel that he will be unable to resist a direct order, but he will try to find a way around it. "Take us to Mrs. Peel and make sure there will be nothing to block our way or hinder us in any way."
He goes to a panel and activates a communications device. "I am authorizing access for myself, No. 9, and No. 126. through corridors: Delta, Alpha, and Beta."
I don't like this. Suehprom speaks up. "Steed, I'm not really No. 126." Damn.
"Hopefully, they won't know any difference. Any ideas?"
"He gave clearance to himself." Suehprom shifts his features to resemble James. Now there are two No. 2's. "This should confuse their sensor systems."
James is interested in this turn of events. "Nice trick. Can anyone learn it?"
"I told Mother that I was working for my family, providing security. No. 126 has a subcutaneous holographic device that changes his appearance." There is no reason to tell him that he is in the presence of a shape shifter. That kind of information tends to unhinge people, he would readily accept electronic devices.
"Is there a chance of getting some of those for the agency?"
"I will see what I can do. It would depend on how cooperative the agency is with me."
"The agency has always been cooperative with you."
"Until recently. I even offered Mother some hardware, but he didn't appreciate the offer. He even threatened my partner's well being. That was hardly cooperative."
"Surely you are not the type to hold a grudge, eh John?"
"Of course not, I'm not that petty. I just do what must be done. Before, it was for Queen and country. Now, I just try to protect my home and family. Also, whoever needs help. Right now, that just happens to be my partner."
Looking at Suehprom, he asks. "Who is he?"
"A traveling companion. A young man with some unique skills. He may even be convinced to join the Ministry. However, I don't think the Ministry is ready for him. He tends to over complicate situations, is hard to control, and has a few enemies."
Suehprom takes the hint. "You 'do' have a nice place here." He sounds very interested.
"I'm sure we have a position for someone with your 'talents'." James is trying to flatter Suehprom.
"We can discuss this after we retrieve Mrs. Peel." Suehprom concedes.
"As you wish. Continue this way." He motions us forward.
I maintain my mental control over him, but Suehprom is distracted keeping his new form. I am no longer getting mental support from him. I keep my Pattern awareness active. "After you, James."
"Very well, John." He activates a switch and a circular platform slowly descends to a lower level, with us on it. When it stops, we are at the end of a corridor. No. 2 leads the way and we follow. We hesitate for a second and James gets three steps ahead of us. A door at the end of the corridor begins to close. James dives for the door as it slides down. I dash for the door to dive and roll under it. The door closes abruptly. I lose track of Suehprom, not checking on him. James runs and dives for the next doorway that is also closing. I smoothly come out of my roll, get to my feet, and pick up speed. I reach the far door two steps behind James, I can almost touch him.
I don't turn around, but I hope Suehprom made it. The door was closing. I hear a loud thud behind me. I ignore it and try to get in physical contact with James.
He reaches a panel and calls out. "I am not in control of myself. I order you not to interfere with me and not to interfere with Nos. 9 and 126." He is somewhat following my instructions, but knows that they will ignore his orders. I said before that he is sneaky.
As he finished, I reach him and grab his shoulder; establishing full control over him. We are in a closed room, eight meters by ten meters. There are cabinets, a desk, various pieces of equipment, and a coffin sized tank in the far corner. I deactivate the monitors in this room, time to let them sweat it out for awhile.
"You have me now, but they know what you are doing. Don't think they won't take me down to get you both." He looks at the door and is startled. No. 126 was pinned under the door and is now oozing into the room. "Very impressive, No. 126. That is hardly holographic, John." He knows it is more than just hardware. He resumes the form of No. 2.
Suehprom is getting into the idea of working for the Ministry, at least toying with James. He shifts back to normal and dusts himself off. "What's the offer?" Smiling. He resumes the form of No. 126.
"What do you want?"
"To get Steed and Mrs. Peel out of here in one piece, safely, and still alive."
"All you have to do is go through a few dozen of our best agents. Myself excluded. I am working 'with' Steed for the moment, as long as he keeps this control over me. I am still curious how you are doing this, John."
"If you were to work with my family, I would show you. I would even put a word in with my Uncle Random. He always needs good men and his assignments are rarely routine. I would have liked to recruit you and Ponsonby."
"I'm tempted. As I promised, there is Mrs. Peel." He points to the tank.
She is floating in a clear and opaque tank filled with fluid. She is wearing a two piece swimming suit. Her exquisite form is distracting, but I keep my mind on James. Her eyes and ears are covered. There appears to be electrodes attached to her head and torso. She is unmoving, possibly unconscious. The tank appears to be a sensory deprivation tank, used for brainwashing. How long she has been trapped in there, I have no idea.
No. 126 asks. "Is it the real Emma?"
"I won't know for certain, until I get her out." The Pattern is signaling strongly that she is the genuine article.
"Of course it is her. That is what Steed asked for."
"Is there a particular reason why she was placed in here, No. 2?" I know the answer.
"We find that cutting off outside stimulation through sensory deprivation enhances virtual reality scenarios."
"To what end?"
"Fairly standard brainwashing."
"No. 126, would you please remove her from the tank? I think there is room in it for No. 2. He will be safe there from his overzealous agents. I would hate for them to hurt James getting to us."
"Yes, I will be safer in there than with you."
"James, if she is harmed in any way; you won't be save 'anywhere'. I gave Mother the same warning, old friend. She helped save your collective hides from the Creed invasion. You owe her and others your very existence. She doesn't deserve the treatment she has been given."
Suehprom opens the tank, takes the electrodes off, pulls Emma out, and covers her with a long white cotton robe. He tells James. "He's right, you know. She warned Steed about the Creed and they brought many of us to help." He dries her off and carries her unconscious form in his arms.
"If you would prefer not to ruin those clothes, you can put on some swim trunks."
"Thanks, John. That is awfully decent of you." He changes clothes. "It is hard to find good suits in the Village." We take away a watch and other tools he was carrying in his pockets.
Suehprom puts the items in his jacket pocket and asks. "Steed, should I keep her asleep in case they have succeeded in co-opting her?"
"Very well, I will correct any tampering 'after' we get her out of here."
As James gets into the tank, he snaps his fingers three times.
"What was that for, James? One of your gadgets?"
He is trying to fight for control. "It's a trigger for the explosive."
"Oh, probably the pen or watch. That wasn't Cricket. Where are they, No. 126?"
He shifts to his standard Suehprom form, with cloak. "My cloak devoured it. What can I say? It was hungry."
Not hearing an explosive, James realizes that No. 126 has surprised him again. The look on his face is amusing.
"It was the best solution, we didn't need the weapons - neither did No. 2." Suehprom is rather pleased with himself.
"Ciao, James. Hopefully we will get together later. Much later. For what it's worth, I regret this. I just don't like the idea of forced confined retirement. Men like us prefer having a free rein."
"Steed, you are good. I doubt if even you can get by the agents, with one of you carrying Mrs. Peel. I expect I will see you very soon, hopefully alive and unharmed."
Suehprom looks at James. "I may get in touch with you later, James. I have other plans first, I may have another change of mind." I share his amusement at the phrasing of his words. If he tales the Logrus, his mind may indeed be changed. He continues. "You may be better off taking Steed's offer, than I take yours."
"I am afraid I must disappoint the welcoming committee. Give Mother my regards, old friend. His only mistake was in believing that I was an enemy. I would have continued as a valuable free agent. He should give it some thought, before I see him again. As I said, I don't hold grudges. Cheerio." I close the tank and bend the handle so it will have to be opened with a crowbar. I also check the tank to see if there is an escape mechanism. I find it and deactivate it.
I extend my awareness to see if my Trumps and Emma's toy is nearby. They are nowhere near, so I presume that Mother still has them. With any luck, he will concentrate on my Trump; 'if' they work there. It would be unfortunate for him, if he should try other Trumps. Others may not like being disturbed.
I detect a group of men coming this way. We have to act quickly now.
Suehprom says. "Don't worry, I have a plan for dealing with those guys." I don't find comfort in an impromptu plan. I prefer to make a more subtle escape.
Our exit is barred and the far door will open soon to let the agents in. A brief search uncovers a gun under a desk, with a full clip of 9mm ammo. I don't expect to need it. Time to retrieve my Trump of the Grove. Concentrating on it becomes futile. It doesn't turn cold to the touch, the Trumps are definitely blocked in and out of this Shadow. I briefly contemplate facing the dozens of highly trained agents, shooting our way out in a blaze of glory. However, that would be too messy.
Something occurs to me. If Trumps are blocked, then other powers should prove more useful. I focus my Pattern ability on affecting probabilities that something 'must' exist, because the designer of the Village found the need for it. I call upon the additional resources of the Jewel of Judgment, a higher order Pattern. Using my Pattern attunement in this way, the likelihood of a secret passage becomes a certainty. Therefore, there must be another way out. I extend my Pattern awareness, shifting to see if there is a secret passage out of here. I find the panel, conveniently hidden behind the sensory deprivation tank; the logical place to hide it.
I move the tank. I open a panel that reveals a dark corridor. We take all the flashlights and I don't find any rope. Suehprom shines the light down the hall. The hall extends beyond the range of the light beam.
I decide to use my tie instead. I take it off and wrap the tie around the leg of the tank, holding both ends. We enter the corridor, pulling the tank back in place with the tie. I let go of one end of the tie and let it slip off. I close the panel. That should buy us some time. With no monitor to detect what we did, they shouldn't find our exit. After all, why should they even know about the passage? James may tell them if he wants, by then we will be gone. I put the tie back on as we head down the hall.
We move down the hall, I pass Suehprom to lead the way. The flashlights illuminate the hall and I begin shifting Shadow. The high humidity will aid the shifting, I begin by adding underground vegetation: moss, lichen, and mushrooms. I shift it further to look more like a cave with stalactites and stalagmites. I have the path widen and rise to a higher level. There is external light ahead. Soon, we reach the surface world. We leave a cave mouth and enter a forest clearing. It is afternoon here and the flashlights are no longer needed. I give mine to Suehprom and he feeds them to his cloak. How odd to have some devouring beastie on ones back.
The weather is quite pleasant with animal and insect noises in the background. We are quite definitely not in the Village anymore. A road is nearby and a briefcase is by the road. Imagine that, just where I left it. I know the Trumps 'will' work here. I have a plan in mind to take care of Emma and I would prefer doing this alone. I suggest to Suehprom that we can contact Flora and he can return to Chaos; Emma and I will join him shortly. He agrees, so I withdraw Flora's Trump. I concentrate upon it, moving forward with my mind. As it cools, I reach her. "Mother, I am almost done here, I would like to send Suehprom through."
"Very well, dear. I see that you've accomplished your task. Are you coming through now?"
"Not yet, I have one more task which won't take long. I just want to make sure all is well."
"Don't miss too much of the party."
"I'll try, and thanks." I take Emma, still in the robe and send Suehprom through. "Thanks, Suehprom, see you soon. Good luck in Chaos." I break contact.
I have escaped the Village twice. Poor James will have a difficult time, explaining things to his masters. I probably ruined his escape record. My next time in the Village may not go as smoothly, I may find myself in that tank. Something to avoid. Definitely avoid.
Exchanging Trumps, I concentrate on my primary Trump. I send my awareness to a place of solitude and safety. It cools and I see the Grove, superimposed on my view of the forest I am already in. I pick up the briefcase and step through the rainbow portal. Not knowing the condition of her mind, this is the safest place for Emma. If I am unable to reverse the brainwashing, I intend to ask for help from the Grove's resident.
I lay Emma on the most comfortable looking piece of real estate. With the softest of touches, I initiate mental contact. I keep her unconscious until I am through. I gently probe, looking for the familiar mental touch of Emma's psyche. I find it, but some blocks have been established. The scientists in the Village have done their job well, but they didn't expect the interference of an Amberite.
The function of the blockage is to alter her loyalties: against me and for them. I do not want to alter her in anyway, just remove the block. I prefer Emma to think for herself. The block is easily removed and I slowly withdraw my mental contact, sending waves of warmth and safety to her. I lightly brush her cheek. "Wake up, my dear. How do you feel?"
She slowly wakens, yawns, and smiles. She loves the wilderness, so I brought her to the most beautiful and peaceful place in all Shadow. She looks around as if she is in a waking dream. "Steed, I'm all right. A little tired and dehydrated, but all right. Where are we?"
"My dear Emma, we are in the Grove of the Unicorn. The land of my mentor and great grandmother. Few people have ever been here before, outside of family. I thought you would like to see it."
"It's breathtaking and I can feel the peace from this place. I can sense a powerful intelligence here, I feel...welcome. Thanks, Steed."
I help her to her feet. "She likes you, as do I. We are free of the Village now. We have to walk out of here before Trumping back to Flora, I prefer she didn't know I come here and why. I also can't shift Shadow from here. We can gather some fruits and nuts to eat, a stream is nearby. I will take care of your clothes as we walk. Do you feel up to it?"
"Of course, we can eat as we walk."
We gather enough to keep body and soul together. There is a little room in the briefcase, so I put in as many nuts as possible. We then fill out pockets. After a long drink of water, we begin our walk. I estimate an hours walk before we reach the outskirts of the Grove then I can begin shifting. I usually ride or Trump in and out of the Grove. The walk will give us some exercise and some quiet time together. I am in no hurry to return to Chaos.
I tell Emma what has occurred since we visited Mother at the Ministry; to fill in the gaps of what she already knew. We will still have to recover our possessions later, we can only guess that Mother still has them. We will have to be more careful on our next visit, I may leave Emma behind and go there myself. I don't want to take a chance in losing her again.
As we are nibbling on our bounty, I bring up the Pattern and begin shifting Emma's robe and swimming suit into more suitable clothing. With her suggestions, I soon have her in her familiar and comfortable navy blue jumpsuit, including cushioned hiking boots. I shift my shoes to include some cushioned insoles. The terrain is rather uneven and rough on the feet. Even though I can't shift the terrain, I can at least shift us. I find a branch that is straight and sturdy, suitable for a walking stick. I use Shadowveil to cut and strip it, presenting it to Emma. We can now enjoy a brisk walk with a jaunty step through forest and meadow. I keep the Pattern active to tune out Trump contacts. I do not want Flora contacting me here.
After awhile, I receive the beginnings of a Trump contact. I concentrate on the Pattern to block the Trump. Within a few minutes, it ceases.
We reach the outskirts of the Grove, yet we are still near Amber. I begin shifting further into Amber. This looks like a good spot to contact mother. I drop the Pattern and withdraw Flora's Trump. Concentrating on her image, the Trump cools and I send my mind calling to her. :Mother?: We are further from Chaos than we were from Shadow Earth. I reach further, further, something, something...there!
:There you are, Steed.:
:We are ready to come through, all is well.:
:If you want to, but the party is over now. The time rate is considerably faster here, remember?:
:We are an hours walk from Castle Amber. We will head there instead. You are welcome to join us, unless you have other arrangements.:
:I have other means, thanks.:
She is not in the mood for a walk. :Very well, see you at Castle Amber.:
We close contact and continue our walk. I put my two Trumps into the pocket of my bowler, for safe keeping. About fifteen minutes later, I receive another Trump contact. I am loathe to end the walk yet, so I bring up the Pattern and begin blocking it. It is quite insistent and the block doesn't seem to work this time. We stop at the crest of a hill.
"Steed, I have the oddest sensation. I think I am getting one of those Trump calls, it is as if my brain stem is itching." Her eyebrows are knitted together, trying to fight it.
This does not bode well. Few people have a Trump of Emma, most I don't trust at all. Why would we both receive sendings? Be ready for anything, Steed. "You probably are, as am I. I don't want to take a chance on losing you - again. Pattern is not blocking it this time." I take her hand firmly in my left hand, I hand her the gun from the Village, and I withdraw Shadowveil with my right. "If you get pulled through a Trump, I will stay with you. Remember, the gun may not work in Amber, but possibly at the other end of the Trump. However, if I get pulled through; I will let go. I want you to reach Castle Amber and let someone know what happened; preferably Random, Vialle, or Ge'rard. Just keep to this road, it leads to Amber." I can't block for myself and Emma, so this is it.
"As you wish, but I don't like it. I can see why you don't like getting Trumped."
"Emma, brace yourself. I can't hold it off any longer." I grasp her hand tightly, I keep the Pattern active, Shadowveil in a defensive posture, and we open contact.
It is as if the universe opened up, mentally revealed itself to us, and said 'hello'. We are enveloped in a swirling rainbow vortex. This is definitely 'not' what I expected. I have been in group contact before, but this is different. We are in Trump contact with...Everyone! Everyone? What an incredible sensation. Every mind is joined, throughout Shadow, throughout all existence. Everyone! "By the Unicorn!" I gasp. Emma lets go and covers her ears trying to shut out the mental noise.
There is no 'clear' communication, but the awareness of being linked is there. There is no way to sort out all the minds, or select any individual mind.
It only lasts for seconds than shuts off. After the contact breaks, I get the feeling of being utterly alone. This is bound to cause some concern in Amber and Chaos. Old boy, talk about understatement!
Emma and I look at each other, speechless.
She leans on me trying to form a question and my expression gives her no answer, because I have none. Her experience in the sensory deprivation tank is still fresh in her mind. We embrace, trying to find something solid to hold onto. We find each other.
We have always had each other.

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R. Cal Westray, Jr.
Copyright 2001 [Westray.org].
All rights reserved.
Revised: October 23, 2007 .