"You have to shut the school down!"
The dean, acting head of the university in the wake of the principal's absence,
wasn't listening to Kenneth. The dark-haired TA fumed.
"Look, I don't care if I get expelled anymore, but there are a lot of monsters
out there and they're becoming more active. If we don't flush them out now
someone's gonna get hurt!"
"I'm sorry," said the dean. "But there are no monsters. Really."
"What about Dr. Vanden?" said Hugh. The slight shift in the dean's expression
told him he recognized the name. "We know about his experiments with chimeras.
He escaped with the majority of those records last night, but not all of them.
We know the university kicked him out, and we know that Kueri U funded his
project up until then."
"That preposterous!" said the dean. "Yes, Dr. Vanden was relieved of his
position, but the university had no involvement whatsoever with his doings.
He was found guilty of illegally subverting funds for his personal projects and
that is all. The contents of his lab were destroyed once the principal agreed
to remove him."
"Destroyed," echoed Hugh. "Even his notes?"
The dean nodded.
Hugh took Kenneth by the arm. "Come on. We've done all we can here."
Kenneth reluctantly followed Hugh out the door. He kept silent until they were
well out of earshot of those in the administrative offices. Then he asked,
"What's on your mind?"
"They destroyed his notes," said Hugh. "There's no reason to do that.
Science by itself isn't good or evil. There could have been valuable
information there that could have been put to another use."
"So they destroyed it to cover up their link to him," finished Kenneth. "Then
what about the documents Vanden--I assume that was him--stole last night?
Were they the university's 'official' records of what happened?"
"Probably, which means they might not be entirely truthful. Something really
stinks here, and I'm not sure if it's more the university or the doctor. One
thing's for sure though. Whatever the truth or reason for his release from the
university, there's someone out there making and controlling these monsters and
we have to stop him."
Kenneth chuckled. "You're making us sound like we're a bunch of heroes."
"Heroes?" Maybe that's what Lore wants to be. He grinned. "Maybe just
a bit. But someone's got to do it. Isn't that why we're scientists after all?
All that knowledge out there--someone's got to discover it."
"Or invent it," said Kenneth. "All right, let's grab Lore and Dana. Dana
stored all our equipment in the back of the library, right? Let's meet for
lunch and decide our next move from there."
* * *
Dana slapped a large printout of a map across the length of the cafeteria
table. Her friends lifted their food trays and placed them back down on top of
the edges of the map. There wasn't anymore room.
"All right," she said. "This is Kueri U." She tapped the building with the
cafeteria. "Here we are, and here," --she traced a bunch of lines around the
campus-- "is where we've been the last few nights. Now we know the monsters'
activity stepped up quite a bit last night, but I don't think that was just
because of the admin office breakin. I think this guy's running out of food to
feed them, so he's letting them forage outside. He also knew that people were
going to start noticing what was up, so he stole the records before people
could get on to him, but he didn't count on us bumping into him last night."
"Sounds right," said Lore.
Dana nodded and turned to Hugh and Kenneth. "And judging from what you guys
told me about the dean this morning, it sounds like things are getting worse.
If the administration is still denying the existence of the chimeras then
security won't conduct any sort of investigation until it's so obvious that the
whole school knows about it. And the guy knows about us too. So if we're
going to stop him, we've got to move fast, before he stops us and before the
monsters get so far out of control we don't have a prayer of getting close to
"That's why I brought this map--working at the library has its privileges! We
need to figure out just where this guy is holed up so we can find him."
"When he ran away last night, he went in this direction." Lore pointed to one
end of the administrative building.
"The closest exit is to the east," said Kenneth.
"That's in the direction of the storage room we followed the beetle to," added
Dana nodded. "And that's where Lore followed a second beetle to, right?"
"Right," said Lore.
"That storage room is too crowded to use as a lab though," said Kenneth.
"Even if he was using it, we would have seen something. You can't set up
embryonic tanks en masse and then take them down again a few hours later when
you hear someone coming."
Hugh tapped the building's location with a finger. "But what about the
chemical storage beneath it? No one ever goes down there."
Kenneth made a sour look. "No one wants to. I had to go there once for
one of my professors and the stench is enough to haunt you in your sleep. I
swear even Mother Brain's forsaken that place."
"Then that makes it just the place to look," said Dana.
"I know." His answer came with a groan.
"Are we going to wait for nightfall?" asked Lore. "We know the monsters are
most active at night. It might be better to find him before they're fully
"Good idea. When's the earliest everyone gets out of class?" said Hugh.
Lore looked at him as though that was a ridiculous question. She shook her
head. "I'm supposed to go back to secondary school after lunch, but I can
stick around if you guys are ready. It's not like anyone's gonna miss me."
"I can cancel my discussion section," said Kenneth. "Our midterms are over so
the students shouldn't need my help much right now. As for the rest of my
classes... Lore's right, I can ditch too."
"I don't work today and my classes are only in the morning, so I'm already
done," said Dana.
Hugh sighed. "I had hoped I wouldn't have to miss class, but if you guys are
willing, I guess I should. I'd feel guilty if something happened because I
decided to glue my head to a monitor. So I guess right after this we'll head
to the library and pick up our stuff?"
Lore nodded. "Yeah."
* * *
When the four were ready they gathered in the university's main storage room.
Kenneth showed them the door to the underground chemical facilities and pulled
out his keycard. He slid it through the dusty reader nearly hidden behind a
mound of crates. The reader issued a beep in approval and the door slid open.
It was dark inside. Not even low level power was working.
"This isn't right," whispered Kenneth.
Dana pulled something out of her pocket. "I've got a pocket flash, but if
anything's even halfway alert at the end of this tunnel it'll see us coming
long before we get there."
"Let's chance it," said Lore. "People could be coming down here anyway to get
supplies. It doesn't necessarily have to be us in particular."
That sounded reasonable, or at least as reasonable as they were going to get
considering that they were about in enter a monster's nest. How many would be
down there? The half dozen or so they had seen, or two or three times that
amount? Dana took the lead, holding her flashlight low as they crept into the
darkness. Lore followed closely behind, hand resting on the hilt of her sword.
Hugh doubted she would have the room to swing that thing around, not until they
emerged from the passage at least.
The passage gradually sloped downward, moving into a spiral as it lead them
below ground level. Suddenly Dana stopped, stifling a shriek. Lore covered
her mouth and turned away. She inched by, back to Dana's flash, and refused to
look behind her. Hugh moved to ask what was the matter, but as soon as Lore
cleared out of the way he saw what had provoked such a reaction in the
A corpse lay on the floor, gutted and grisly after something had fed on it, but
the head was left remarkably intact, eyes and mouth still open in a silent
scream. It was the principal, or what was left of him, brilliantly illuminated
in the ghastly glow of Dana's flash. Hugh retched and closed his eyes, trying
to block the horrific image from his mind. He felt for the wall beneath his
hands and opened his eyes just a crack to find a way around Dana without
looking at the floor.
Kenneth touched Dana lightly on the arm and pulled her after Hugh and Lore.
For now the corpse could wait. The corpse was no longer in danger of death.
When they spotted light around the bend in the passage Dana turned off her
flashlight. Someone was talking, perhaps two someones, but sound of the second
voice was unlike anything they had ever heard; beautiful, loving, yet cold;
inhuman. They crept closer, staying out of sight, but now near enough to make
out the words spoken.
"So then what am I supposed to do?" said the first, that of an older man.
The second voice no longer responded.
"That must be Vanden," whispered Lore.
Hugh nodded. "Yeah, I think so. He looks familiar. I've probably seen him
around before he was dismissed."
The man let out a gusty sigh even they could hear. "Great. As the Mother
wishes," he muttered.
"Mother?" echoed Dana, looking at her companions. "As in Mother Brain?"
"Dunno," said Kenneth, "but if we're gonna get him we might as well do it now.
I don't hear any monsters. He might be by himself."
The man was no longer talking when the four ran out of the passageway. They
reached for their weapons on the chance he might be armed.
"All right professor..." said Kenneth.
"Oh sh-" said Hugh.
They hadn't heard the monsters because someone had carpeted the floor.
The chamber was filled to the brim with embryonic capsules, nearly a hundred of
them. And those specimens inside, surely they had been growing for well over
the month since he had been suspended. The four students found themselves eye
to eye with a dozen beetles, two of the cat creatures, and the sole crustacean
they had seen the night before.
"Like the carpet?" asked the scientist, standing from a safe position behind
his creations. "It helps keep them warm at night. Mother Brain told me you
would be coming, so I had to be ready."
Kenneth drew his daggers. He eyed the monsters warily before focusing his
attention on the former professor. "Give up, Dr. Vanden. We're not going to
let anyone else get hurt by your monsters!"
The doctor sneered. "So what are you going to do? Kill me? I don't think any
of you have the guts."
Hugh gritted his teeth. The doctor was right. They hadn't discussed what they
would do once they actually found him. Stop him to be sure, but no one had
thought of how to apprehend him. Maybe they could overpower him, if they
managed to get through the chimeras.
"Listen, kids." Vanden lifted his hand as though supporting his own lofty
goal. "I follow the will of Mother Brain. If she wishes for me to create
these beasts, then that is what I shall do! Unlike this stupid university, I
realize a true command from her when given one. None of this crap about second
thoughts or being mistaken about our orders."
Lore unsheathed her sword and swung it in front of her. She held the hilt so
tightly her arms shook. "No," she said. "What we found in the tunnel..."
She hiccuped and snapped her right hand aloft. "Mother Brain would never ask
The light of Lore's tsu technique blinded everyone as she hurled the beam of
energy not at the professor but at the tanks full of developing embryos.
Several of them exploded, gushing fluid and their fragile occupants on to the
floor. Vanden uttered a bloodcurdling scream and bellowed, "Attack them!"
Dana yanked out her silentshot and stunned one of the feline creatures.
Kenneth slit its throat with one of his daggers before whirling to parry the
jaws of a beetle with the other. Lore screamed as she pierced the shell of the
crustacean with her sword. A furry head poked out of it and snapped at her
with a reptilian maw. Hugh glanced around him and grabbed a hefty box off a
shelf. He threw it at a cluster of beetles. The box hit a beetle's head with
a sickening crunch.
"Lore, are you hurt?"
"Five beetles down, seven to go."
Lore speared the last of the felines on the tip of her sword. Even so close to
death, the chimera fought, pushing its way down the blade until its final swipe
caught her in the shoulder, flinging her to the floor. Her sword fell with a
clatter and blood welled from the gouges made by the monster's claws.
"Lore's down! She's hurt bad!" shouted Kenneth.
"Someone clear a path so I can get to her!" said Dana, already pulling out a
vial of monomate from her pocket.
Lore's vision swam as she propped herself up on her good arm. A shape lunged
in front of her then fell to one side as someone barreled on top of it. They
struggled a moment, the beetle twitching twice feebly before falling still.
"Thanks, Hugh," she said.
He retrieved the bloody scalpel from the back of the beetle's head. He turned
her way and tried to smile. "You're welcome."
Dana knelt beside her and popped open the monomate. She poured the contents
liberally over the multiple wounds. She pursed her lips. "I hope this is
enough. I'm not sure it will be."
A short distance from them, Kenneth battled the last beetle into a corner. It
feinted, trying to find a way around him, but the TA's daggers blocked its way
at every pass.
"Dr. Turiff Vanden!" It was the voice from earlier, powerful and demanding.
"Place your hand on the black disc of this console!" The voice came from the
computer beside the professor.
The man did so.
Kenneth slew the beetle and turned to watch.
"I have monitored the battle," said the voice, honeyed tone sweet with venom.
"You have not done my will. You have failed."
Again the room erupted with bright light as several thousand volts of
electricity thundered through the disc and into Vanden's body. He burst into
flames before he had a chance to scream. The smoldering corpse collapsed in
front of the computer.
Though there was no face nor body to watch, the four students could feel the
presence on the other side of the computer turn its attention to them. "And
now my children..."
A tsu destroyed the computer's speakers.
Hugh turned to Lore to find her in tears. The young girl shambled to her knees
and dabbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her carbonsuit. "I don't want to
know," she said. "After we fought so hard... I don't want to know if that was