Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 17
Stories
Ten Winks to Forever
by Bud Sparhawk
An Early Ford Mustang
by Eric James Stone
Sparrowjunk
by Margit Schmitt
Bonus OSC Story Serialization
Eye for Eye Part One
by Orson Scott Card
IGMS Audio
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
Nice Kitty
by David Lubar
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain
    by Von Carr

2nd Place - Best Story - 2010
2nd Place - Best Interior Art - 2010

Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain
Artwork by Nicole Cardiff

Canticle 1: De Profundis

Sister Jasmine was three miles outside the safe zone when she saw her first zombie. There was only one in sight: a tattered shambler that the disposal patrol must have somehow missed. She revved the Silver Stallion's motor to draw the zombie's attention, and waited for the corpse to stumble in range.

"Hey, hey," yelped Einstein, her K9 Antizombie Unit, as it bounced excitedly in the passenger seat. The robotic dog loved nothing better than a chance to fulfill its original function. "We're going to get you, deadite!"

The shambler cocked its head. If Sister Jasmine hadn't known better, she would have sworn it was parsing through the robotic dog's yaps, trying to identify the words. The thought gave her chills.

"It's looking at us!" the K9 unit said, tail wagging. "Signs of intelligence! Oh boy oh boy!"

"Pray for us now and at the hour of our death," Jasmine muttered as she hit the gas. Einstein wailed with disappointment as the shambler bounced off the reinforced windshield.

"You killed it!" Einstein said. He hopped into the rear seat and leaned up against the rear window, titanium claws clicking against the glass. "No fair! It could have been a smart one, too!" Like most of the later models of K9 units, Einstein dreamed of the day when the Restored UN's fear of zombie tacticians would come true, and give him more challenging enemies to tear and rend. But Einstein was also a creature of the moment. "We killed you!" he yelped back at the corpse twitching on the road. "We killed you good!"

"Eyes on the road, Einstein," the Sister said. "The Lord rewards the vigilant." The Lord also rewards those who keep their weapons close at hand, she thought. Zombies were like pre-apocalypse cockroaches. If you saw one, there were probably a thousand more somewhere nearby.

Where there were zombies, there were also probably wild K9 units, their programming scrambled during the onslaught of the first robot uprising. And then there were the natural predators of the wasteland: radioactive ants; intelligent rat armies; triffids. Even a well-trained nun like Sister Jasmine, armed to the teeth against the byproducts of natural and supernatural apocalypses, knew better than to hang around outside the safe zone.

So she kept driving, making a mental note to set the radio to call in a zombie report. The zombie's look of intelligence might have been illusion, but she didn't want to take any chances.

"Read me the list again," she ordered, and the dog halted its yapping long enough to recite the list of reported supplies. "Wal-Mart, three clicks northeast," it said, in the dry tones of the Mother Superior. "Investigate and collect: crossbows; canned food; medical supplies; diagram of light bulb."

Sister Jasmine sighed. She didn't know what Our Lady of the Serpent's obsession was with the collection and illumination of electrical diagrams, but hers was not to question why.

In the old days, back before the zombie plague and the attack of the mitochondrial nanobots, back when Sister Jasmine had been merely Jasmine Brown, yoga instructor, she'd hated going to Wal-Mart. It was the kind of place her parents shopped at because it was cheap, and which Jasmine refused to enter because of its politics. She recalled telling her father that mega-corporations like Wal-Mart were going to ruin the world. Ironic, she thought, that nowadays the Wal-Marts of the earth might be its salvation.

But who could have anticipated any of this? In the old days people had -- maybe -- worried about one apocalypse. At most, two. Global Warming and an ice age. Vampires and zombies. Nobody had expected all of the apocalypses to happen at once. They got them all anyway.

So when Sister Jasmine pulled into the starkly empty lot of the Wal-Mart, she was on the lookout for a multitude of apocalyptic troubles. The road had been ominously clear on the way here, a sure sign of robot scavenging. And the dim interior of the former bastion of low prices could be a perfect haven for everything from vampires to sadomasochistic Australian biker gangs.

"Anything on the scanner?" she asked.

Einstein obliged by shifting the dish antenna. "No signs of life," said the dog. "I hope there are zombies."

Jasmine pulled out her case of supernatural weaponry. As a post-Vatican V nun, she had some distinct advantages in this area. She opted for a heavier weapon, the modified M4A1 carbine with holy water and napalm capacity, and holstered her Glock. She tugged her silver crucifix to the outside of her robes, and made sure her Star of David was also in place, in case any Jewish vampires got too friendly.

Most religiously-minded supernatural beasts tended to falter at the sight of a well-armed nun. The Glock would do for the atheists.

She sent Einstein in to scout. When the dog sounded an all-clear she followed him inside, trying to brush off her growing sense of unease. A Wal-Mart run outside the safe zone was never a cakewalk. For a brief moment she wondered if lack of overt dangers was a good sign, if maybe it meant that the world beyond the safe zone was getting safer. But she dismissed the thought. It was dangerous to speculate; better to assume that this Wal-Mart, like every other one in the Wasteland, sheltered hidden dangers. Zombies in the freezers. Vampires in the basement. Cockroach hive-minds plotting beneath the compost in the produce aisle.

For the first few minutes, everything went smoothly. The dusty linoleum was strewn with cans, and while Einstein trained his shoulder missiles on the occasional corpse, nothing moved. They were alone.

It was the light-bulb diagram, of course, that caused the problem. Wal-Mart didn't exactly sell light-bulb diagrams. The Mother Superior's report had come from a bearded peddler who claimed he'd seen one in the corner office while sheltering from a radioactive sandstorm. But as Sister Jasmine edged along the wall, she realized that the man's tip was probably too good to be true. Who nowadays would recognize a lightbulb diagram? Something was wrong.

She halted, feet away from the door, and took it all in: the empty mega-mart with canned food strewn invitingly across the floor; the closed office door.

"Einstein," she said quietly into her comlink. "Retreat."

As she turned and sprinted for the entrance, the trap sprung. Shadowy figures dropped from the ceiling. Jasmine ducked under an overhanging shelf and reached for a flash-grenade.

"Ninjas!" howled Einstein from a corner. "Awesome!"

A black object struck Sister Jasmine on the face and she collided with the wall. Her flash-grenade fell uselessly from her fingers. Spitting blood, she scrambled to her feet in time to see the silver K9 unit go down under a barrage of black forms.

"Hey!" yelped the dog as its red bandana was torn away by unseen hands. "No fair! Give it back!"

Somewhere in the space between Sister Jasmine's anger and her utter despair, a thought formed. Blood. Use it. Glancing downward she saw the drain beneath her feet.

"Mary, Mother of God," she whispered, and before she could even complete the prayer she was pressing her hand into the broken glass that clung to her radiation habit, watching the dark droplets fall toward the earth.

And somewhere down in the drainage systems beneath Wal-Mart, the vampires responded.

Their earsplitting screeches gave even the ninjas pause as they turned to face a new set of enemies. Knowing how little time remained, Sister Jasmine stumbled toward one of the darkened panels of glass at the end of the aisle. "Einstein! Parking lot!" she yelled, not knowing if the dog would have enough time to respond.

Behind her she heard howls of fury as the undead burst into the room. Ninjas might be quick, but vampires were quicker. And they were also one of the few wasteland creatures that would not attack a nun on sight.

Sister Jasmine's 9 mm Glock took out the window, and she threw herself into the dazzling sunlight of the parking lot. There was no time. She pressed a bloody palm to the touch lock and pulled herself into the driver's seat.

Despite her training, she did not pull her Stallion away from the store. Not immediately. She waited outside the dark hole of the Wal-Mart for seconds longer than was necessary, listening to the shrieks inside. But there was no sign of Einstein.

A few minutes later she was on the road again, blazing a path back to the safe zone, a med-sponge pressed to her bleeding hand. She had no idea why ninjas would try to capture a member of the Weeping Orders, but it didn't really matter. She'd lost her supplies and her dog. In the finest tradition of her holy order, there was going to be hell to pay.

Canticle 2: Actus Contritionis

Sister Jasmine recited her sins before the green glow of the Badger Grove auto-confessional. She could not, of course, be forgiven for her violations of the fifth commandment: she was not genuinely remorseful, and given the perils of the wasteland travel, she would probably kill again. Nor could she genuinely repent of her anger and grief over Einstein.

But she had entertained impure thoughts; she had taken the Lord's name in vain; she was proud. If she died in the pursuit of Einstein, she wanted her soul to be as light as possible.

The priest on the screen dispensed her penance. As always, Jasmine felt a certain sense of relief as the burden of her sins was partially lifted. She made the Stations of the Cross, kneeling at the ash-gray foot of each bronze marker on the Road of Penance. Then she got back in the re-fueled and weaponized Silver Stallion, and went forth to bring the pain.

The information provided by the Whispering Orders suggested that the Wal-Mart attack had been masterminded by the so-called "Daimyo of the Wasteland." The man who now held Einstein was a rumored telepath who had first entered the wasteland five years ago, and had since built up a cult following among the victims of cell-phone-induced madness. He had, the Whispering Nuns reported, been recruiting large numbers of the afflicted to dig for him in the Chicago Crater. A shantytown called New Tokyo had sprung up around the La Grange ridge of the crater.

Officially, Jasmine's mission was simple: Infiltrate the New Tokyo settlement, determine the nature of the Daimyo's interest in the Weeping Orders, and react appropriately. But unofficially, Jasmine wanted her dog back. She prayed that whoever had Einstein had yet to dismantle him. If they had . . .

Jasmine floored the gas pedal. The Silver Stallion raced along the remains of I-65, weaving in and out of the burnt hulks of cars and the half-stripped carcasses of giant robots.

At the Rensall exit, the road became impassable, and she had to switch over to tank treads. Jasmine fought free of the carnage of I-65 and turned the Stallion toward the burnt plains of the Rensall desert. The occasional cluster of cornstalks still thrust their way up through the night-black soil of Rensall, but mostly the horizon was clear of vegetation, save for an ungainly pack of triffids lurching across the horizon. The carnivorous plants seemed to be pursuing something. She hesitated, then turned the Stallion toward the triffids.

There had been times in the past when Jasmine had seen situations unfolding and decided it wouldn't hurt to investigate. She was usually wrong. In the wasteland, investigation almost always hurt. But it was her moral duty; she couldn't just pass by the scene of a triffid attack without checking to see if a human was in danger.

The Stallion rolled over the remains of a wall, and as the windshield lowered, Jasmine saw that the triffids were now circled around the twisted trunk of what had formerly been an apple tree. A tiny human figure stood in front of it, waving a small object at the approaching plants.

Jasmine shoved the Stallion out of tank mode and gunned the motor. There was a satisfying shredding sound as the first triffid went under the wheels in a splatter of green and yellow. The other plants turned, lashing out at the car with their whip-like stingers. One of the stingers slapped against the driver's window, but the greasy venom trail it left behind was surprisingly thin. They must have exhausted their poison sacs elsewhere, Jasmine thought. The human by the tree was still standing, still alive.

Jasmine pulled up as close as she could and threw up the door release on the passenger side. "Get in!" she yelled through the Stallioncom.

The girl by the tree hesitated only for a second, then launched herself at the Stallion. She managed to scramble inside even as another snakelike stinger whipped against the doorframe.

"Ow!" the girl said. Then she turned to Jasmine. "Thanks a lot, Mrs. Nun!"

Up close, Jasmine could tell something was off about this girl. She wore a purple backpack and looked about twelve years old; her face was framed by carrot-red pigtails that stuck out in opposite directions. A splash of freckles decorated improbably bright skin. She grinned at Jasmine, displaying a chaotic herd of white teeth barely kept in check by the metal fence of braces. Her patched blue T-shirt was wet with venom.

Another triffid stinger smacked into the windshield. Jasmine reversed the car and aimed for what looked like an open stretch of desert. In a minute, they were clear.

"Who are you?" Jasmine asked, sliding her free hand down to her gun and laying her finger along the barrel. She kept her eyes ostensibly on the road, her left hand on the wheel.

"I'm Capers Williams, Girl Detective," the girl said, "and this is my assistant, Flaminel Bell. Together we fight crime." She extended a grubby hand in Jasmine's direction. "Glad to meet-cha! Do you have any crimes we can assist you with today?"

"You're an android," Jasmine muttered.

"I sure am!" Capers said, putting her hand back on the window. "But don't worry! We're not like those uprising robots -- although I'm sure they had valid political concerns! -- We're here to help people. By solving crimes!" She leaned back against the passenger seat and looked expectantly up at Jasmine.

Jasmine kept her hand on her gun. "Where's your assistant?"

"Oh." The girl's eyes grew wide and Jasmine's stomach tensed. "I guess he must still be hiding. You can come out now!"

There was a zipping sound from the girl's purple backpack. Capers wormed out of the backpack's straps and shifted the bag in front of her. A series of thin, string-like legs emerged, followed by a furry black mass.

"This is my assistant, Flaminel Bell," Capers said as the black mass scuttled up her arm. "He's a spider!"

The furry head of the animatronic toy peered shyly at Jasmine from the android's shoulder. The muppetbot had a pair of large googly eyes that slid in different directions.

Jasmine grimaced. Androids.

"Who owns you?" she asked.

The girl's grin faded. She looked at the floor. The furry spider followed suit, tilting its head toward the floor, its pupils clicking in a vaguely downward direction.

"We don't know what happened to our parents," Capers said quietly. "They were lost at sea when the comet hit. Personally, we believe they were probably washed ashore on an undiscovered island and became its king and queen. One day they will sail back to America and come and find us. Until then, we will do our part to restore civilization by traveling the post-apocalyptic wasteland and solving mysteries." She looked up. "Do you have any mysteries for us to solve?" The spider removed a tiny white cloth from somewhere and blew its non-existent nose.

"Sorry," Jasmine said. She took her hand off her gun. Nothing happened. The girl and spider remained in the passenger seat, looking hopeful.

"I'll give you a ride to Gary," Jasmine continued. "It's a safe enough town these days. I'm sure there will be crimes there that you can solve."

The girl sank back in her seat and then jolted upright. "You're lying! You've got a crime we can solve! Flaminel Bell is psychic, you know."

"Really." Jasmine spared a glance at the fuzzy shape on Capers' shoulder. An idea was forming in the back of her mind. "What am I thinking right now?"

"You're . . ." Capers cocked her head, listening. "He says you're thinking that his psychic abilities might be useful against the telepathic cult leader who kidnapped your dogbot! Wait -- there's a telepathic cult leader?"

Jasmine grunted.

"Please let us solve your case, please, please!" Capers bounced anxiously in her seat. "Not only is Bell a psychic, but I have a photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge and a magnifying glass! We could call it the Case of the Stolen Dogbot! It'll be great!"

Jasmine considered her options. On one hand, androids could make useful allies; they were strong, fast, and completely committed to the task at hand. On the other, they did not share human concerns. They were slaves to their programming. They tended to focus on whatever their programmed specialty was, and lose interest once the relevant task was completed.

"Are you Asimovians?" she asked.

Capers made a face. "Of course not! Who wants to follow boring old laws? They'd get in the way of us solving mysteries!"

That would make combat situations easier, but it was not necessarily reassuring. Jasmine directed a sideways glance at the spider, and thought about the Whispering Sisters' report about the telepathic Daimyo of the Wasteland.

She remembered Einstein yelping in the Wal-Mart.

"Okay," she said, sending up a quick mental prayer. "You're on the case."

Canticle 3: Defende Nos in Proelio

Through the grace of God and the intercession of Saint Christopher, Sister Jasmine and her companions reached the outskirts of the Craterlands without encountering much more than the ragtag remains of a shambling zombie army. Jasmine took a certain amount of pride in the ease with which the Silver Stallion tore through the moaning horde, but without Einstein yapping beside her, it wasn't the same.

They stopped to trade for water on the outskirts of Gary. From the edge of the Craterside cliffs, Jasmine gazed across the peculiar glistening plains of Old Chicago. Small pools of water still collected in the basin of what had once been Lake Michigan, before its vaporization.

"I heard they had really good pizza here," Capers said, eying the cracked vastness of the Crater. "It must have been nice to eat pizza, huh?"

The girl detective was striding around with the most irritating cheerfulness. Jasmine bit down on her temper -- do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, she reminded herself -- and said, "Has your spider picked up any signs of psychic activity?"

"Flaminel Bell," Capers corrected her. "And he's not anybody's spider. He's a detective."

Jasmine suppressed her irritation. "I'm sorry," she said. "Has Detective Bell picked up any psychic activity in the area?"

Capers cocked her head. "He says there are definitely some telepaths to the north. And some other people he's having a hard time seeing."

Those would be the ninjas, Jasmine thought. She felt a flare of anger as she remembered Einstein disappearing under a black swarm of shinobi-no-mono.

"In The Secret of Red Gate Farm, Nancy Drew disguised herself in white robes and hoods to infiltrate a nature cult's cave hideaway," Capers said enthusiastically. "We could do that!"

"I'll keep that in mind," Jasmine said. She checked her Saint Dymphna's medal of psychic shielding to make sure it was still in place. "Can your -- can Detective Bell shield both of your minds to make sure they don't know we're coming?"

"But they already know we're coming," Capers said. "They're almost here."

For a moment Jasmine forgot herself. By the time the first ninja assassin slipped over the ridge, she'd taken the Lord's name in vain at least thirteen times. She'd also managed to get the modified Gatling gun out of the coffin in the backseat and onto its hood mount.

"Take that, bad guys!" Capers Williams howled while .50-caliber jacketed rounds tore through the air. She brandished a Borrible-brand slingshot. "Evil will never triumph!"

Detective Bell stopped cowering on Capers' shoulder long enough to tap the girl detective on the arm and point at the ninja cartwheeling towards them. Capers took the approaching ninja out with a well-aimed shot to the eye. The Detective went back to hiding his fuzzy face in her synthetic hair.

Turning the Gatling gun on the hood mount, Jasmine cut down a line of approaching black figures and then swept the gun back again to eliminate those who had managed to backflip out of the way.

"Get in the car!" she shouted at the child detectives.

Thankfully the androids obeyed some orders. Capers flung the door open and dove inside. Jasmine flipped the hood latch up on the Gatling and moved around to the driver's door, blasting cartwheeling ninjas with her Glock.

"Don't worry!" Capers shouted from somewhere inside the vehicle. "I know how to hotwire cars! It's essential detective knowledge!"

The image of Capers' tampering with the Stallion's precious circuitry alarmed Jasmine. She took her eyes off the approaching ninjas and turned towards the door, realizing even as she did so that she'd made a mistake.

The last thing she saw before the ninja's foot struck was the toy spider pressed against the glass, waving its legs in warning, its googly eyes jiggling in alarm.

Canticle 4: Actus Spei

Jasmine woke. Her face was pressed into a cold surface. Every part of her body ached.

She twitched, about to roll over, then thought better of it. She listened instead.

The sound of her own breathing. Distant shouts and rumbles. The grate of stone on stone, and ringing clangs of metal.

"We know you're awake," a voice said. The accent sounded vaguely Irish, but not like Sister Brigid's Dublin accent; the words were weirdly shaped, and the voice rose and fell in the wrong places.

Jasmine rolled over. Her face smarted as the blood rushed to it. She was lying on the floor of some kind of small cave. A torch in the corner cast flickering light through the grid of bars that separated her from the humans standing on the other side.

There were three of them. A tall grim-faced man with a beard and wearing a type of battered leather armor aimed a gun at her. There was a bulge at the hip of the thin, frail-looking man on the far right, covered by the fabric of a gray overshirt. The mid-sized white man at the center had a knife in his belt, but no other visible weapon. His arms were folded on his chest. He carried himself with a kind of nervous authority.

Jasmine clambered to her feet. She tried to move slowly, and keep her muscles relaxed. The metal bars across the front of her prison were obviously scavenged, probably from the melted remains of skyscrapers. They'd been crudely forged together to provide a grid-like barrier; the gaps between the bars were uneven, and some sections lacked horizontal bars. She hoped that when she examined the door hinge that the work there would prove equally shoddy.

"Who are you?" Her voice was rough, and her mouth tasted of old blood. She needed water.

"I am the Daimyo of the Wasteland," the central figure said, in his strange not-Irish accent. He looked less nervous when he spoke, but something about his posture still suggested discomfort.

Not a born leader, Jasmine thought. The man's face twitched.

"I heard that," he said angrily. "We removed your medal. All your thoughts are open to me. I know all about you, Jasmine Brown."

Jasmine stifled the thought she might have had in response. She focused on receiving information: noticing the hot, humid air drifting in from the tunnel, the relative youth of the Daimyo, the fact that there didn't seem to be anything remotely Asian about him. Goddamn anime fans, a distant part of her brain whispered before she could snuff it out.

"But you know nothing about me," the man continued. His Adam's apple bobbed in his neck. "While you and your Order have been hoarding human knowledge in the wasteland, I've been bringing order back to the world. I alone can communicate with the cellular-psychotics; I alone formed the army that took over Mukwongo, and Elk Grove, and New Tokyo. My army grows at every stop. Once we have finished forging our weapons from the remains of Old Chicago, there will be nothing that can stop us! I already rule part of the wasteland, Ms. Brown. Soon I will rule it all."

The grim-faced man did not look particularly happy during the Daimyo's monologue. He darted a look at Jasmine, but she kept her face -- and her mind -- as blank as possible.

When the Daimyo seemed to have run out of steam, she prompted him with a question. "So what do you want with me?"

"Your mind," the young man said. He looked vaguely uncomfortable. Apparently the threatening kind of histrionic boasting came less easily to him. "To complete the rebuilding of the wasteland we need the information your Order has been collecting. Technology, Ms. Brown," he said, warming to his theme. "Technology that your Order has been unfairly hoarding inside your 'safe zone.'"

"With respects, Tono --" the grim-faced man said.

"Daimyo," the young man whispered out of the corner of his mouth.

The man grimaced in frustration. "With respects, she doesn't need to know this. Take the information from her."

The Daimyo frowned, then nodded, licking his lips nervously.

"It would be easier," he said to Jasmine, "if you would voluntarily think of the information we need. Then there'll be no need for . . . unpleasantness."

"Torture, you mean," Jasmine said. The Daimyo winced. The grim-faced man shot her a look that said if I was in charge, you'd already be on a rack.

"We want the plans to the safe zone's outer defenses," the Daimyo said.

Luckily, Jasmine had experience dealing with telepaths. She quickly diverted her mind away from the Daimyo's question, forcing herself to concentrate on an earlier part of his speech.

"What kind of technology do you think we have?" Even as she asked the question, Jasmine thought of the rows of tiny vials in the convent's "hot" laboratory, pestilence and plague swirling in frail glass tubes. Those, the convent wouldn't distribute. From the Daimyo's sudden change of expression, she knew she'd guessed right.

"If you won't cooperate, we'll have no choice but to torture you," he said uncertainly. He turned away. "I'll give you an hour to think about it."

The grim-faced man looked like he wanted to shove both Jasmine and the Daimyo's head through the wall, but he followed his leader out. The other guard shot Jasmine a murderous look as he exited.

Jasmine sat down on the cold floor of the cave. Someone had left a gourd of water and a plate of food in the corner. She stared at it, then turned away. She couldn't risk being drugged.

Telepaths, she thought despairingly. How could she escape when her thoughts advertised her plans to whomever was listening? And she was sure there were telepaths listening. She wasn't sure of their numbers or their strength; it was quite possible that the Daimyo was the only psychic on the premises. Indeed, that would explain why he was nominally in charge.

As far as she could tell, the Daimyo could only pick up on articulated thoughts. That helped. And he was most likely to pick up on her thoughts if he was listening for them, which he probably was.

"Mary, Mother of God, pray for me," she whispered. "Saint Jude, Patron of Lost Causes, pray for me."

And there, like a comforting hand on her shoulder, was her solution.

The words of the prayer formed easily in her mind. "O most holy apostle, St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus," Jasmine whispered as she crawled over to the bars. "People honor and invoke you universally as the patron of hopeless cases, of things almost despaired of . . ." She let the familiar words of the prayer fill her mind; she concentrated on them, and on the feel of the metal under her hands. "Pray for me, for I am so helpless and alone" -- her eyes saw the gaps between the metal and the cave wall -- "Please help to bring me visible and speedy assistance . . ."

It took Jasmine a good forty minutes to jar the metal corner loose enough that she could worm through it. The fence left deep gouges down her back, and at one point her habit got caught on a bent wire. She had to tear the fabric to get free, focusing as she did so on the rhythm of Latin syllables in the Oratio ad angelum custodem. She hoped whatever telepath was listening in was thoroughly bored by this point.

She scuttled down the carved stone passageway, mentally running through the Ava Maria as she did so. It was harder to focus on the prayers now that she needed to make decisions. She didn't have long before she screwed up, and then whoever was monitoring her -- she suspected it was the Daimyo -- would realize what she was doing.

Her original mission had been to destroy the Daimyo's power base, if possible, and return with information if it wasn't. Jasmine's personal goal was to find Einstein, but without weapons or psychic shielding, none of her goals seemed like they were achievable.

She stomped down her pain -- Saint Anthony, Patron of Lost Things, please help me find Einstein -- and studied the dusty, mottled surface under her feet. Apparently the cultists weren't used to keeping prisoners; she guessed her cell had been constructed in a rarely-used section of the tunnels. Towards the sound of voices, then.

Jasmine saw a metal rod lying free and picked it up. Any weapon was better than none.

She crept from shadowed tunnel to shadowed tunnel. At one point, a cluster of ragged people passed close by her, talking loudly. Jasmine pressed herself into one of the wet crevices in the wall. Luckily, they didn't see her.

At a certain point, she became aware that she was being hunted. Loud voices echoed through the tunnels. Men rushed by, clattering metal, into tunnels she had just exited. She thought she heard the Daimyo's voice shrieking orders. The prayers slipped from her mind. Jasmine tried to sink further into animal-logic, thinking only of moving onwards, drifting from shadow to shadow, being one with the darkness.

A clatter ahead of her. Jasmine shrank back against the wall, trying to edge out of view. Men were definitely approaching, and their steps were slow and methodical. They talked in lowered voices. She saw their shadows spill along the wall. She shifted her grip on the metal rod, and changed her stance.

"Hello!" A bright, overly-cheerful voice cut through the darkness. "I am Capers Williams, Girl Detective, and this is my assistant --"

There was a thud and then a scream of pain.

"Well, that was just rude."

More thuds and screams followed. Jasmine rounded the corner to see the girl detective surrounded by a pile of bodies groaning and writhing on the floor. She looked up as Jasmine approached, and released the man she'd been holding in an arm-lock. He flopped to the ground and lay still.

"Hello, Sister Jasmine!" Capers said, bounding over the carpet of bodies, pig-tails flapping like the wings of a demented bird. "We solved the Mystery of the Mysterious Kidnapping! It turns out there's this Daimyo guy who wants to rule the wasteland --"

"I got that," Jasmine said quickly. She delivered a swift blow to the head of a man who was trying to crawl away. "How did you find me?"

"Well, first we had to follow a trail of clues that led to New Tokyo, and from there, we had to infiltrate the Daimyo's tunnel system by dressing as guards. But I guess we look too short to be guards, so. . . . Anyway," she said, seeing Jasmine's expression, "Detective Bell finally picked up your thoughts and tracked you here!"

"As did I," said the Daimyo, in what he obviously hoped was a booming voice. He stood at the end of the tunnel with his hands on his hips, flanked by guards.

"Oh, you again." Capers made a face. To Jasmine, she stage-whispered, "Bell says he's been around the corner the whole time, waiting for someone to say something entrance-worthy. What a goofball!" To the Daimyo she called out: "You're a goofball!"

The guards, however, were definitely not goofballs. Jasmine saw the glistening muzzles of guns pointing in their direction. She also recognized the competent, grim-faced man standing at the Daimyo's back.

"I'm going to give you one last chance to cooperate," the Daimyo said. He tried to snap his fingers a few times and then gave up. He gestured to someone standing just out of sight.

A cage rolled into view, pushed by the thin, frail-looking man Jasmine had seen earlier. A familiar metal shape bounced and circled inside the cage, making muffled yelps.

"Einstein!"

"It's the dog!" Capers shouted excitedly down the tunnel. "We solved the case, Bell! Yay!"

Glancing in the direction Capers was shouting, Jasmine saw a furry black shape in a miniature guard's uniform edging along the wall towards the Daimyo. She hastily looked away. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccáta mundi, parce nobis, she thought.

"Will you please stop praying all the time!" the Daimyo shouted. "It's really annoying."

The psychic spider detective halted its progress along the wall to nod vigorously in agreement. Jasmine gritted her teeth. It was all she could do not to motion Bell along.

Einstein, she thought, looking at her dog. They'd put a muzzle on him, but other than that he looked in good repair.

"Yes . . . Einstein," the Daimyo said. "If you agree to come with me right now and give us the defense plans of the abbey, you'll get him back. If not . . ." He trailed off into dramatic silence.

"If not, we'll shoot this dog," the grim-faced man said. He evidently valued clarity over dramatic tension. The safety clicked on his gun; he pointed the barrel at Einstein's cage.

"Well, that's kinda mean," Capers said.

The Daimyo smiled.

"Why are you still here?" he asked. "Don't you have other mysteries to solve? You found the dog. What more do you need?"

The android's face froze as she ran through her programming. "Er," she said. "You're bad guys . . .?"

"Are we?" the Daimyo said. "We're trying to bring back technology to the wasteland. That's a good goal. And even if we were bad guys, sometimes at the end of mysteries, bad guys get away. The important thing is that the mystery gets solved, right?"

Jasmine winced. The last thing she needed was the detectives' programming working against her. "I think the bad guys should get punished," she said loudly. Her voice was dry and cracked; she could barely force the words out.

"I think the people in Gary have a mystery that needs solving," offered the grim-faced man.

Atop Einstein's cage, the spider turned back towards the girl detective. Its eyes slid sideways in a quizzical expression.

Jasmine could feel the moment slipping away. In a few seconds, her android allies would turn, obedient to their programming, and head out to solve the mysteries of Gary. Without their help, she would almost certainly be recaptured.

The time had come to shift strategies.

Lock, Jasmine thought furiously. Seeing the Daimyo's expression change, she turned her gaze on the spider, trying to make the words as distinct and psychically "loud" as possible. Pick the lock, Detective Bell.

"I dunno," said Capers. She looked down at her red sneakers. "I guess solving the mystery is the most important thing. But in Mathnet, Pat Tuesday says . . ."

Jasmine never did get to hear Pat Tuesday's words of wisdom.

Following Jasmine's gaze, the Daimyo looked down and saw the string-like legs of Flaminel Bell trying to pick the lock of Einstein's cage.

"What's that?" he shrieked.

The thin-faced man leaned over and quickly recoiled. "Spider! Kill it!"

Even as the guards went into motion, Jasmine was already running, already charging towards the guards and hoping to close the distance before they looked up, when a blur of color ran past her, impossibly fast.

Androids did not care about human things, but they were inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic world. However hard things got out on the wasteland, whatever laws might be broken, one thing remained true: a girl loves her spider.

"You leave Flaminel Bell alone!" screamed Capers Williams, kicking the thin-faced man down the length of the tunnel. She turned and clobbered a bearded guard with his own shotgun. "He's a very nice spider!"

Jasmine plowed into the grim-faced man, carrying him off his feet. The shotgun blast took out part of the wall behind her. She applied a Vatican-approved choke hold and held on for dear life.

"That's right! Run away!" Capers howled behind her. "You . . . You scaredy-cats!"

The grim-faced man stopped clawing at Jasmine's arms. He relaxed, unconscious. Jasmine punched him in the face for good measure, then turned back to Capers.

Capers was standing in front of Einstein's cage, crying. She hugged the spider in her arms.

"He's had to overcome so much!" She kicked at the Daimyo, who was cowering against the wall. "Do you hear that, you Labrador mutant? How would you like to be an epileptic psychic spider and have nobody understand you, huh?"

"I think Detective Bell has done very well," Jasmine said as she edged towards Einstein's cage.

"That's right!" Capers patted the spider on its furry head. "You're a great detective!" She glared at the Daimyo, who was trying to move sideways along the wall. "Where do you think you're going, you big meanie?"

Jasmine shot the lock off Einstein's cage and released her dog. It took her a while to remove his muzzle: the K9 unit was too busy gamboling excitedly around her feet.

"Ohboyohboyohboy!" Einstein said once she'd got the muzzle off. "I missed you! But now you're here! Can we hunt zombies now?"

"Soon, Einstein," Jasmine said. She hauled the Daimyo to his feet and clocked him on the jaw.

Canticle 5: Gloria Patri

". . . and that's how we solved the Mystery of the Missing Ice Sculpture."

Capers' feet were up on the dashboard of the Silver Stallion. Detective Bell skipped back and forth on her shoes, playing with the laces.

"I never would have thought that memorizing the digits of pi would prove so useful," Jasmine said, scanning the horizon. Something was up.

"I think there should be more zombies in that story!" Einstein said, perched on the coffin in the back seat and staring out the rear window. He wore a new bandana proudly around his neck.

From inside the coffin, the bound and gagged Daimyo gave a muffled groan. Jasmine smiled, grimly. Without the Daimyo's psychic abilities, his followers would not be able to control the army of cellular madmen. The threat to the Wasteland was diminished. And the Order of the Serpent would no doubt be interested in the information the Daimyo could provide. All she had to do was deliver him to them.

"We can't add zombies," Capers said doubtfully. "That's not how it happened."

"But everything's better with zombies!"

"Quiet, all of you." Jasmine narrowed her eyes. "This place is dangerous."

In the silence they could all hear the Daimyo's nervous breathing. Einstein whispered something about zombies.

"How many more creatures do we need to fight before we get to the abbey?" Capers said. "We've already had to fight armies of ninjas and cellular madmen and a giant mechanical anaconda. We need to solve more mysteries! Why --"

The dinosaur attack came out of nowhere, just like they always do. There was a screech of metal as the mutant T-Rex tried to get a purchase on the car.

"Dumb lizard!" Capers rolled down her window and aimed her slingshot at something Jasmine couldn't see. "We've got raptors, too!"

"Zombie raptors?"

Jasmine sighed and reached for her double-barreled Reptile Annihilator. Deliver us from evil, she thought . . . and prepared to bring the pain.


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