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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 7, 2004 00:29 EDT



A large third floor bedroom in Shaw House, a Palladian-style mansion, set in extensive gardens, with a park and private golf-course.

    Virginia woke from a dream-tortured sleep in the strangest of places: Her own bedroom. The soft-toys that had always been arrayed on her bed had been neatly placed onto their night-shelf, and looked down at her. She felt... odd. Her thoughts seemed somehow fuzzy.

    After a while, she realized that part of the oddness was that she was clean and wearing a nightdress. After what she'd been through, that no longer felt quite natural. She looked at the bookshelves full of antique Regency romances. They were all there. The room was as she remembered it, down to the details of the way it smelled.

    So, was it all some sort of terrible—and wonderful—dream? She must ask Fluff...

    She suddenly realized the small galago wasn't in his usual spot beside her.

    Virginia Shaw knew fear, then. She felt her temple. There was a small, neat dressing—not the crude bandage that Doc had put on... and where was Chip? He wouldn't have left her, surely? He loved her. He'd said so.

    Slowly she began to piece together her memories of how she'd got here.

    A cold sweat of fear prickled at her.

    She'd been rescued from the Magh'.

    She'd fallen into the hands of something worse.

    A maid came into the room. A familiar face, a normal part of the vast household staff of the Shaw mansion. "Good morning, Miss Virginia. Can I draw the curtains for you? Order you some coffee? Doctor has said you can get up for an hour today." She had two tablets on a saucer, and a glass of water. She handed it to Virginia. "Doctor said you were to take these, please, Miss."

    "How long have I been here?" asked Virginia, drinking the tablets and then leaning back against the pillows. She felt curiously weak.

    "Since yesterday morning, Miss. Now, can I order you something else to drink? Coffee? Chocolate? Tea?"

    What she felt she needed right now was some of the rat's overproof looted brandy. But she needed to establish just what was going on before she started to kick and scream.

    "Coffee would be nice," she said.

    "And perhaps some toast, Miss?"

    "Yes. Why not? Have you seen Fluff anywhere, by the way?"

    "They haven't caught the nasty little creature yet, Miss. But it is only a matter of time."

    Virginia felt a mixture between elation and terror. Fluff was around. He hadn't deserted her, then. But obviously someone was trying to catch him.

    She yawned. This woman was definitely part of the staff, but not one of the sullen maids who had taken "working for the dummy" as a form of punishment. She probably wouldn't know how attached Virginia and Fluff were to each other.

    "Why bother," she said disinterestedly. "He'll come in when he's hungry."

    "They've put bait out for him, Miss Virginia. But he hasn't come in for it yet."

    Virginia shrugged. "He will, when he gets hungry enough. Why do they want to catch him anyway? He's harmless."

    The maid looked shocked. "He bit Doctor Thom!"

    "How sad," said Virginia, boredly. "While I can quite understand that the Doctor would like Fluff captured, I will be very unhappy if he is hurt. Please tell everyone that. And I would like that coffee and toast, now."

    The maid hurried away.

    But, by the time coffee came, Virginia felt a curiously lethargy, and somehow unable to care very much. She got up and sat in a chair in the sun. But she did not even bother to take a book down from the shelf. A curiously detached portion of herself said that this was very odd indeed. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!



    Later Dr. Thom came and examined her. He seemed very pleased with her. She did notice that one of his hands was bandaged, but she couldn't be bothered to ask why. It was all dreamy and oddly comfortable. She ate and then she slept again.

    But something inside her head was still shrieking that none of this was right.



    The next morning was a carbon copy of the first. Except... after the maid had brought the coffee, the glass of water and the tablets, she left to order a more substantial breakfast. A little skylight window opened, very cautiously.

    Virginia froze, the cup half-way to her lips, hearing it creak. She looked up. There were a pair of huge soft eyes peering at her. It was an impossible climb to the overhanging balcony-window.

    But for Fluff, a climb like that was easy.

    Virginia was about to give a glad cry when she noticed that he had his long black finger across his lips. Perhaps someone was listening, said the odd detached part inside her head.

    Fluff was now mimicking her drinking. He wanted her to drink coffee? To pretend everything was normal, perhaps? Well, she really wanted that coffee anyway. But as she raised it to her lips, he shook his head frantically.

    He didn't want her to drink that coffee? Virginia was puzzled. Fluff pointed to her bathroom. So, obedient, she got up and walked in there and opened the little clouded glass window. There was no point in that clouded glass, here, four floors up. Reaching this window to peek in would have taken an insane acrobat.

    Fluff swung in. Galagos are small primates, but possibly one of the most acrobatic of them. They are normally nocturnal, so not many people get to appreciate their climbing skills. He did not jump for her reaching arms. Instead he leapt for the basin and turned on the tap. Then he leapt to her, and clung to her neck. "Senorita, they have the devices for listening everywhere," he whispered. "And do not drink the pills. She is the drug for tranquilizing."

    No wonder she'd drifted through yesterday! She'd been drugged. And she would have been again today.

    "What's happened?" Virginia whispered. "All I remember was Doctor Thom... I think he injected me. And he ordered me to come quietly, in Korozhet. I wasn't expecting it and I couldn't resist."

    "He had the badge on his jacket. The badge she spoke, very quietly, in Crotchet. I too obeyed. I saw him inject you with a small thing. I clung to your neck, and they carried you to the helipad. Even in the rain, the helicopter she flew. I hid under the seat. The pilot he swore much about the instruments. They came to this place and I was seen running from the helicopter."

    Fluff shivered. For all his Don Quixote antics, Fluff was still a very small and not naturally courageous primate. "They tried to shoot me, 'ginia! They had guns. I jumped and ran and hid. Then I went looking for you."

    "Oh, Fluff. You're so brave." Ginny hugged him, knowing that he enjoyed being told this, and knowing he really deserved it.

    "What else is a true caballero to do?" whispered Fluff, his chest expanding a little. "Now, 'ginia. I think you must go back into the room because I hear that pig-person spy-maid. I wait outside. They cannot catch me there."

    So Virginia went out again. But now she was not quite as afraid as she had been that morning. Fluff was a very little galago, true. But he had brought Chip and the rats and bats to her rescue before. There was hope. And besides, there was strength in not being alone.

    "I can't tell you nice it is to have coffee again," she said, cheerfully.

    The maid’s bearing was stiff. "Doctor said I must make sure you drank your pills."

    "Oh, I will. Now, I wanted to wear my jade chiffon today. I think I can get up a bit more today, don't you?"

    "Doctor said so. Drink your pills, Miss."

    "I'm going to. But I couldn't find my jade chiffon dress. The last time something of mine went missing Daddy had two of the servants jailed... and then it turned up that it had been put into Mummy's closets. Imagine that. So you'd best go and look."

    Ginny took the pills, and a mouthful of water. Unfortunately, the maid waited for her to swallow. So Virginia did.

    "And now what is keeping you?" she asked crossly.

    "Are you sure it isn't in these cupboards, Miss?"

    "Are you questioning me?" Virginia echoed her mother at her most unpleasantly haughty. "Off with you." She took another mouthful of coffee.

    The woman turned and left. Virginia waited until she was sure the maid was gone, and then went into the bathroom and turned on the shower.

    She tried sticking her finger down her throat. It took more effort than she'd thought it would—yuck—but eventually it worked. She got rid of some coffee and the pills. The pills had started to soften already, but she didn't think she'd ingested much of whatever was in them.

    "Are you are all right, mi Virginia?" enquired Fluff anxiously.

    She made a face. "Better than I would be if I kept that stuff in me," said Virginia. "But I think I am going to go on a crash diet. I'm not eating anything that could be doped. And I really would love some more coffee."

    "Food it is no problem. I can steal that from the kitchens. Coffee... I will see."

    "You'd better be careful, Fluff. That jail-warder maid of mine let on that they're putting out bait for you. It's probably poisoned."

    Fluff laughed scornfully. "They are fools, Virginia. They think I am some dumb beast. And it is not only your maid who is a jail-warder. This place has been taken over by many I do not recognize. Only a few of the old faces are still here. This whole place she is now a prison. I have found out that Doctor Thom has taken over your father's old study. He has made it his office. He does not know that with the ivy it is a good place for me to hide. I have listened to them planning....hist!"

    Standing on the edge of the basin, Fluff assumed a dramatic pose—his posture tense, one hand cupped to a huge ear. "Danger! Someone comes."

    There was a knock on the bathroom door. "Miss Virginia? Are you all right?"

    "Of course I am." She didn't have to work at all to put an irritated tone in her voice. That "Miss" was beginning to grate. "I'm just about to have a shower. I'll call for you if I need you." She motioned Fluff out of the window. Then, just in case, stripped off her nightgown and stepped into the shower.




    In the days that followed, Virginia cultivated a glazed look of vacant amiability. It did allow her to walk around a little and to find out that the Shaw mansion had been entirely taken over by someone her father had disliked and feared. It also allowed her to find out that she was most definitely the man's prisoner, in all but name. She took her meals—as far as possible—in solitary state, in her room. Fortunately, she had usually been made to do so, before the soft-cyber implant had enabled her to leave being an incoherent seven-year-old in an adult body. The remaining old staff of the mansion took that as the norm, and the new watchdogs therefore seemed to accept it also.

    So, Fluff was able to steal food from the orchards, gardens, and the kitchens for her, and to meet her in secret. And she was allowed to wander around, though she was careful to make no effort to go where she was steered away from—places like the vehicle park, the kitchens and the gardens.

    The other thing that was denied her, quietly but firmly, was news of the outside world. The news channels on the television in her room had been blocked. When she had the chance, she found out that this was the case for the large-screen TV in the Oriole Room too. And none of the newspapers, magazines and periodicals that used to be delivered to the library were there any more. When she asked, in a bored tone, why the TV in her room was skipping channels, she was told that it was for her peace of mind, on Dr. Thom's orders.

    She and Fluff discussed, at some length, the galago's going for help. Fluff had three problems with the idea:

    Firstly, perimeter security was tight. There was everything from ten-foot-high electric fencing to flight-detectors in place.

    Secondly, the galago's departure would leave Virginia without food.

    And thirdly, the little creature, raised as a pampered ultra-rich girl's pet, had no idea where to go for help. The world outside was a strange, unfamiliar and terrifying place. Who did he approach? Where would he find Chip or the rats and bats that Ginny knew she could trust?

    Doctor Thom hadn't quite moved in yet. But it was plain that he regarded the place very much as his own. It was also plain that his agents had infiltrated the staff far more thoroughly than Aloysius Shaw had ever dreamed. Obviously, the Shaw's personal physician had been his kingpin. Doctor Thom was now absolute lord here, except...

    When his master arrived.



    Virginia had the dubious pleasure of meeting the man some two days later.

    "Miss, you have a visitor," said the chambermaid. There was distinct nervousness and awe in the woman's voice.

    The maid's name had turned out to be Juliet. Juliet the Jailor, as Virginia privately thought of her. The "Miss" had got to the point where Virginia was wondering if it was a justification for homicide.

    "Oh?" said Virginia languidly, doing her best to hide the quickening of interest. "Who?"

    "It's Talbot Cartup, Miss. We'd better get you dressed quickly. The boss doesn't like to be kept waiting."

    She yawned. "Who is he?"

    "He's a very important man, Miss."

    Virginia knew what Talbot Cartup's portfolio had been, and how her father Aloysius had been angry about it being given to him. The man's completely unfit to be in charge of public security—for anyone, much less the Shareholders Council! she remembered once hearing her father snarling to her mother.

    At the time, Virginia hadn't really understood what her father had been concerned about. In retrospect, thinking over that old overheard conversation and some others, it was clear to her that whispers of a possible Vat insurrection had terrified enough influential Shareholders to push Cartup into the position of power he had held before the war. Her father had objected, but he'd been outvoted.

    The war, of course, had increased the Cartup family's power vastly—and had driven Aloysius to employ his own security staff. It obviously hadn't helped. Not if Cartup was Jailor Juliet's boss.

    Virginia allowed herself to be dressed. She shook off the escort downstairs, and walked down to the Webb Salon. Dr. Thom and Cartup were both there, sipping her father's Barbadillo Olorosa Seco Cuco sherry out of Waterford crystal glasses.

    "Ah, Miss Shaw. May I say how pleased I am to see you up and about," said Talbot Cartup, standing up, and adjusting the window as he did so.

    She smiled vacantly at him. She noticed he knew exactly where the electric window controls were, and how to use them. "You have the advantage of me, Sir." Ah, the Brönte words. So perfect for this setting.

    "Talbot Cartup," he introduced himself. "I was a friend and admirer of your late father."

    She had seen him a few times before, actually, in public venues where Aloysius Shaw could not avoid him. But she was sure her reputation for brain damage would allay whatever suspicions Cartup might have.

    "I don't remember you, I'm afraid, Sir. My father didn't talk much to me." True. He had talked to others as if she wasn't there.

    There was some slight relaxation in the set of Talbot Cartup's shoulders. "A great man, Miss Shaw. A great loss for us all! I miss him sorely."

    Virginia couldn't say the same, not with a straight face. Again, in retrospect, she could now understand that her parents had been fairly moderate in their political views—certainly compared to such as Cartup. But that hadn't led them to treat her with any sympathy. She'd been a very good clockwork doll-model-of-a-daughter to her parents, once she'd gotten the implant, and nothing more than that. She was certain Talbot Cartup missed Aloysius Shaw as much as she did.

    "It is sad, yes... And what can I do for you, Sir?"

    "Why, nothing, Miss Shaw. Rather, in my role as an executive member of the Council of Shareholders, I came to see if there was anything we could do for you."

    "How good of you," she said, letting her tone sound vaguely pleased. "But Doctor Thom is looking after me very well."

    "He was about to get me some records when you arrived," said Cartup, meaningfully.

    The doctor started. "Er. I'll go and get you that file right now, shall I? Miss Virginia can look after you for a few moments, Mr. Cartup."

    When he'd left, Talbot Cartup turned to her. "Is everything all right?" he asked in a whisper.

    Ginny looked at him with what she hoped was an expression of vague puzzlement. "Why, fine. No problems... not a problem in the world."

    "That doctor. Do you trust him?"

    More than I trust you, you snake, which is to say not at all. If I hadn't heard Daddy talking about you, and Fluff hadn't heard Thom reporting to you, and your Jailor Juliet-spy hadn't let the cat out of the bag, calling you 'the boss,' I might just have asked you for help.

    But she let none of that show. By now, Ginny had mastered the art of keeping her expression mindlessly vacant. It wasn't hard, really, since she had years of experience with brain damage to call on.

    "Dr. Thom has been so kind," she said dreamily.

    "So he's been helpful?

    "Very. But I'm so tired. I hope I'll feel better one day soon. Doctor said I was just to rest."

    Cartup nodded, sympathetically. "Good advice, Miss Shaw. Good advice. I was just concerned. You know you can confide in me if you have any trouble."

    "Why, thank you. You are too kind."

    The doctor returned with a slim brown folder. "Miss Virginia, you're looking a little pale."

    "I'm just tired," she said, "and a bit shaky." She didn't have to fake the tremor in her hand. The Doctor wouldn't know that it was from fury.

    "I'll call someone to take you back to your room, then."

    "I'll be fine on my own, Doctor," she said with just a trace of her mother's hauteur. "But I will ask you to excuse me, Mister Catsup." She enjoyed that little twist on his name. "Very kind of you to call." She drifted toward the door, which the doctor hastily opened for her.

    There were no servants in the hallway. Doubtless the spy-master didn't want anyone eavesdropping on him. Silently, and with no sign of the shaky footsteps she'd affected before, Ginny slipped into the adjoining Wedgewood room. Her mother had been a shrewish woman and had really disliked being excluded from some of Aloysius's private meetings—held so often in the Webb Salon. She'd had her own simple but effective way of dealing with the security measures Aloysius had taken. Virginia had seen her do it, twice, though she'd had no understanding at the time what her mother was doing—or why.

    Mechanical snooping was impossible, but... Virginia searched her memory. She found the glass behind the leather-bound books, where she remembered her mother had hidden it. Then she pressed it against the wall and strained to listen.

    She could made out the words. Barely, but enough.

    "...unnecessary charade. I was worried she might know too much about me," said Cartup.

    "I told you, Talbot," said Dr. Thom. "I have the matter entirely in hand. She's doped to the nines."

    "I wish you'd stick to injecting her. I've been told that drug absorption varies with what they eat."

    "Oral dosage is quite safe, Talbot," said the doctor. "Trust me. The stuff is quite addictive, anyway. She's already heading for the stage where she'd beg us for it, if we stopped."

    "It's not going to make her raving stoned is it?" asked Cartup. "Because we need her up, about, and apparently compos mentis, Thom. We need control of those votes of hers."

    "She'll be fine," reassured Dr. Thom. "Rather vague, but very willing. She'll do anything so long as we keep her well dosed."

    "Good. Because she'll have to appear in public eventually. Possibly a few times. There is considerable pubic curiosity about all this, and I haven't been able to damp it all down."

    "All the more reason for not injecting her, Talbot. These summer fashions would make finding hidden veins tricky. And intramuscular absorption really is erratic."

    "We're going to have to get her to sign those proxy forms soon," said Cartup. "Will she do that?"

    The doctor snorted sarcastically, loudly enough for Virginia to hear. "She'd lie down on her back and let you screw her if I told her to, Talbot. Besides we've got that device you got from the Korozhet. That'll make her do anything you fancy."

    Talbot laughed. "Someone else might want a dummy, but I prefer a bit more spice in my bed-partners."

    "Someone did want this dummy," said the doctor lightly. "She's not a virgin any more, which she definitely was last time I examined her. I took reasonably fresh seminal fluid samples from her vagina when I examined her while she was unconscious."

    "Good lord," said Cartup, plainly amused, by his tone. "Probably some hard-up soldier."

    Ginny nearly dropped the glass. She didn't even bother to put it away in its hiding place. Some part of her mind told her to keep listening, but she was just too shaken with sheer fury.

    She fled back to her room. How dare they say that about her—and about Chip? And how dare that vile Thom pry into her unconscious body?

    She was going to get out of here! Somehow, someway. And there would be a reckoning. She cast about for a means. Her first inclination was to use something to bludgeon that creep into a pulp when he next came to "examine" her.

    Cold reflection said that wouldn't work, or be worth it, no matter how sweet the idea. She could dwell pleasantly on the thought, but Dr. Thom was a large and well-built man. To her own present disgust she'd once had something of a crush on him, and thus she knew that he was a martial-arts expert—or claimed to be, at least.

    Whether he was or not, she knew he'd been practicing faithfully every day in the mansion's gym. Even if she managed to catch him unawares... she was not sure just how hard to hit, or if she could hit hard enough. For a moment, she wished savagely for her chainsaw, the one she'd used to slaughter Magh' in the tunnels. That would deal with him! Martial arts, be damned. Riiiiipppppppppppppppppp. Arms and legs flying everywhere...

    She drove those thoughts forcefully from her mind, concentrating on what was feasible. Or at least might be.

    So: escape. She couldn't drive. Well, she'd never driven anything but a golf-cart. So stealing a vehicle and driving it through the fence wouldn't work. Besides, the fence was electrified. And also there were various hidden booby-traps along its length. She knew where the plans for those were kept, but still, it was no little obstacle. The gates would stop a tank, she remembered her father saying, never mind a mere golf-cart. Anyway, there were at least three burly guards between her and the motor-pool.

    And when she got out, where could she go, where they wouldn't just bring her back to the disgusting doctor's "care?"

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