The busy season at the museum was over for me. I was still working on one major restoration, but it was a smaller painting whose value dictated a slow and steady approach. I was continually having to fend off the praise of those who watched me work. They were amazed at my ability to work in such fine detail and with such precision. Little did they know that their presence was slowing me to a crawl!
The holidays were coming too, and I was wanting to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas away from Terana, if possible. Andy had sent invitations for both, and it sounded like Mom and Dad were going to get their first invite to Arbor, and so were Cor's.
I had sent a thought to Harvey letting him know I wanted to get together. He had replied with a location and a time. I could sense that it was Midnight who should show up too, not Sarina Kelvin. The location was the top of the Chesapeake Tower. Chesapeake Financial was a large banking and investing company, one that would be a multinational corporation back on Earth. Terana's communications and transportation capabilities weren't up to the task of supporting a true multinational yet. Despite this, Chesapeake's reach was global, if a trifle slow.
The advantage of meeting on top of the Tower was that it was the tallest building in that part of the city, and there would be nobody looking down on our meeting. I jumped myself onto the rooftop at the appointed time. Of course I did a quick mental sweep first and found Harvey there, sitting at a small table, linen table cloth and all. There was a vase with a daisy in it sitting on the table and an ice bucket with a few bottles resting in the ice. I jumped to the roof behind him.
"Doesn't this look cozy!" I said. "Where's the violin player?"
"Good evening Midnight."
"Can I offer you a root beer?" Harvey asked, motioning to the ice bucket.
"Sure," I answered, noting that Harvey had brought the same local root beer I'd served him at our previous meeting.
"I'm glad you asked for a meeting. There's word out that the Black Adder is operating in this area, and you'll need to keep an eye out."
"Who's the Black Adder?" I asked.
"The Black Adder is one of the world's most notorious villains," Harvey said, pouring a root beer. "He is an international assassin, uses an undetectable poison of his own devising that stops the heart. It is always fatal. Not only has he never been caught, but he has almost never even been seen by anyone other than his victim."
I had been doing as much research as I could into the history of Terana, but I hadn't focused much on the specific history of the super hero community. I'd have to ask Harvey if there was a resource I could go to for that kind of information.
"You wouldn't go to all this trouble," I motioning at the table and the ice bucket as I sat down, "just to tell me about a new villain in town."
"I think you have what it takes to bring down the Black Adder."
I sipped my root beet while I contemplated that thought.
"This is, as you said, the world's foremost assassin, uses a poison that never fails, and you think I can take him on?"
"Yes, and for several very good reasons," Harvey sat across from me and took a sip of his own root beer before continuing. "Everything publicly known about you suggests a hero whose powers are physical, as manifested by your 'midnight force'. We both know that this is a cover for your true abilities, and you've even managed to conceal the existence of your armor so far."
"Okay, so the Black Adder will think all he has to do is catch me unawares and give me a shot with whatever his wonder drug is, and boom! He's got me. I see where you're going with this."
"Exactly. So as long as you don't do something silly, like lowering your armor to drink a soda in public, you're immune to his poison."
I considered my wise-assed Teranan mentor with one raised eyebrow for a moment.
"Has it occurred to you that the Black Adder could very well be using some completely different mechanism for killing his targets? You say that he uses an undetectable poison. If its undetectable, how do you know it exists?"
"Deduction?" Harvey replied without conviction. "We assume a poison that stops the heart because we find no evidence of anything else, and what else could do that?"
"I could do that," I offered, quietly. "I could do it with a thought."
"Telekinesis?" Harvey asked.
"Yes, that would do the trick too, but it would leave signs of physical damage." I answered.
"I could just tell the heart to stop beating."
That brought a long pause, and a strange look to Harvey's face.
"You could do that?"
"Yes, probably," I answered. "It would be hard to do to you. You have some sort of defense that I find difficult to get through. I would have to work at it to use that trick on you."
Harvey looked at me in silence for a long time.
"But you wouldn't use it, would you?"
"No, except in self defense, and as a last resort, I would never do that. It would go against everything I've been taught, and everything I believe."
"But the Black Adder might not have those kind of moral restrictions?"
"This is all speculation," I pointed out. "We have no idea how he does what he does. All we can say is that it could be poison, it could be something else. The bottom line is, we need to understand him well enough to draw him out in a way that gives me a shot at him without endangering anyone else."
"That's going to take some time. We'd better hope he doesn't have too many targets lined up in the near future."
"Which leads me to my reason for asking to meet. I'm going to be gone for a while, starting a week from next Friday."
"Five weeks, maybe six," I answered. "Through the New Year, but not much past it, I expect.
"Good enough. That will give me plenty of time to flesh out a plan. Let me know when you get back."
I was busy the two weeks before I headed to Arbor for the holidays.
The museum held several very high profile events during the Christmas holidays, but they didn't have a Thanksgiving holiday here, so things didn't get rolling as early as they did back on Earth.
While my boss might have wanted me around when he was bragging about some of the restorations that had been accomplished to the many donors who would be invited to these parties, he understood it was the holidays, and I was just another of the denizens of the deep. He already knew I wasn't willing to be eye candy for these sort of things.
The upcoming parties did require some work getting some things out of the archives and prepped for display, and every one of the denizens pitched in for that. I had my pieces of that puzzle done early, and left a detailed set of notes for the rest of the crew regarding any special handling that might be needed.
Only one of the pieces required anything special, and that was only because there had been a small touch up required in one corner of the canvas where a little moisture damage had been found after we got it out of the crate. The painting had been put in a room where we had complete control of the temperature and the humidity, and we had it hot and dry in there, wanting to chase out any other moisture that might be remaining in the canvas. Our paintings were never stored framed, and Becky was making sure she had a good bone-dry frame to display it in while it was out for the holidays.
That occupied me for most of the time before my vacation, and the rest of the time I spent on Smoke.
Smoke was the third of my unrevealed facets.
Temple was the first place I'd found that I'd kept for my own, and Terana was the last, having come after my introduction to Arbor, but Smoke had been a find that had come to me while I was deep in the middle of my 'goddess quest', for lack of a better description.
If I hadn't been wearing my armor the day I jumped into that facet, I would have stood a good chance of dying. Smoke was a dark, harsh world with an atmosphere of black, roiling clouds and a land of smoky, broken ground separated by inky black seas.
Because I didn't die, I found the Slurr. That wasn't really their name for themselves. They didn't have a name for themselves. What they did have were bright, burning little minds that latched on to my thoughts with joy and awe and who became the first, and last of my worshipers.
What they also had were physical bodies made of clouds of miniature electrochemical furnaces, and an innate ability to take just about anything and pull it into themselves and remake it, clear down to the molecular level.
The first of them I saw physically were sitting in a pool of something oily looking that they were slowly 'digesting'. Their little cloudy black bodies looked like a slurry of gritty coal dust and oil, and that's where the name came from. Slurry became Slurr.
With their little matter replicator bodies, and their bright little computer-like minds, the Slurr were tools waiting to be used. A billion beings, every one of whom worshiped me utterly, and they were tools desperately wanting to be used.
My struggle was to not use them wastefully. To not squander their devotion and love.
So I gave them tiny little tasks that I thought were crucial and impossible to get done otherwise.
.... There is more of this story ...