The Spider’s Seven #21 – The Set-up (Part 2)

This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series The Spider's Seven Vol 2
“Ready, Tommy?” Susan was approaching the front doors of the diner with long strides. It was key to keep her momentum or else she might lose her nerve. And any hesitation might get her found out.
“Am I the only one concerned that all this software is simple enough that the instructions Wendell left fit on one page?” Tommy replied. “How many times has someone done this to me without me ever noticing it?”
“Unless you had a much higher military clearance than I’ve been imagining, I don’t think anyone would bother.” said Susan as she reached the door. “Going silent. Wish me luck.”
“Luck.” said Tommy. “You too, Terrell, even if you can’t answer.”
Susan pushed the door open and stepped inside. The air conditioner had been turned on too early for the season, and the air gave her instant goose-pimples. It didn’t help that she was dressed provocatively: a short skirt with sheer, thigh-high stockings to hide her prosthetics, plus a halter top that pushed up her cleavage and a tiny jacket that covered her arms, but did nothing to keep the chill out.
She also had on a thick gaudy ring from Wendell’s increasingly unsettling collection of spy gear.
It didn’t take her long to get eyes on her target. Christopher Harrison Elliot, or Dr. C. Elliot Mueller, as he was calling himself, had dropped his spray-tan and added some gray dye to his hair, but he was the same slightly chubby man from his photo.
Across from him were his two closest known accomplices.
One was Rochelle Campos. There was a touch of Latin heritage in her; mostly a tan that was probably not a tan, but mostly she looked like what someone from the 1950’s would draw if asked what a nurse looked like. She wore an excessive amount of make-up and had her black hair done up in neat curls that probably cost hundreds of dollars a week at the beauty parlor.
Beside her was Herman Boyd. He was a stout man with the look of a bulldog or possibly a frog. The gray in his combed over hair was from time instead of a bottle. While he looked dumpy, Susan’s hitter’s eye noticed that this was from the heavy flannel shirt and shapeless khakis he wore. Beneath them, he was very fit for his age and would be a threat in hand-to-hand combat—at least with someone who didn’t have prosthetics with super-human strength.
All three looked dour as the talked and ate. That was hardly surprising: people who were happy rarely wanted to destroy the world.
One she got a look at the three, Susan didn’t look at them again. She headed straight for a small booth. From security camera footage Wendell was able to pull, they knew that the trio sat at the same table every week and she’d done some recon and picked a handful of places for her to sit before enacting the plan.
The booth was her number one preferred location. Boyd had a background as a professional bodyguard, so he would be keeping an eye on the normal places someone would sit so as to spy. Therefore, the booth was the opposite of that.
It was too far away for her to eavesdrop naturally and another table was in the way, potentially foiling any remote microphones. It didn’t even offer a proper line of sight. What it did offer was a location that made the fastest routes from it to both the door and the bathroom; one that passed directly by the table where the cultists were eating.
Along the way, she concentrated on walking with a slight wobble as if her heel was loose. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Boyd noticing her. He didn’t dismiss her—no good bodyguard dismissed anyone—but he didn’t look any closer either.
Once she was seated, she noticed him turn to speak to Rochelle, which also allowed him to see where she’d been seated.
“What can I get ya?” A waitress with short, blonde hair was quickly hovering over Susan before she was even sitting comfortably.
Susan took a palmtop out of her purse and shrugged. “Black coffee and… what kind of pie do you have?” She called up a program that filled the screen with boring looking spreadsheets for the other woman’s benefit. After listening to the list (every diner she’d ever been in had an extensive one), she ordered the blackberry and pretended to set to work on her spreadsheets.
The moment the was gone Susan dismissed that program and switched to another. This one quickly enabled sensors in the palmtop that weren’t included in the consumer model due to being highly illegal and scanned the room for signals and their origin points. It registered these on top of a top-down diagram of the diner’s floor plan
Amid the other patrons’ palmtops, phones and tablets, it found the palmtops of the three cultists as well as Mueller’s hospital-issued tablet and the disposable cell phone in Boyd’s pocket. When Susan highlighted those, it immediately set to analyzing them.
“Go, Tommy.” Susan said into her hand, hoping Boyd hadn’t heard.
“One touch crime.” Tommy muttered. There was the sound of tapping on a keyboard. “Cloning the phones… installing backdoor to the tablet. Annndd here’s their contact lists. Should I be surprised they’re almost identical?”
It was swiftly clear to him that there would be no reply, so he stopped injecting personality into the info-dump. “Alright, and now I’ve isolated the number from the alarm company. You’re clear Terrell. Susan, sit tight until he’s done.”
Susan pulled up the spreadsheets again. At least she’d have time to enjoy the pie.
Most break-in artists would have been insulted by the implication that the alarm needed to be turned on for them. Terrell, however, had never been an ‘artist’. He just figured out how to use his power to pull off a few tricks. He didn’t consider what he did in terms of craftsmanship.
Besides, any precautions that kept a death monster worshiping cult from becoming aware of his presence were welcome.
As soon as he’d made sure no one was looking, he quickly made his way up the driveway and around the side of the attached garage. There was a section of fence meant to keep people from doing exactly that, but Terrell hadn’t been out of the game long enough to get out of shape and vaulted it easily.
Being a cult, they of course had a high privacy fence in back. Being a house in the suburbs, however, it of course had the same layout as every other house in the neighborhood with sliding glass doors leading to a modest concrete patio out back.
The glass doors were locked with a deadbolt, which amused him. Why bother with a deadbolt when the entire door was made of glass? He didn’t break it though. Instead, he took an index card from his pocket and tore off a thin strip.
Terrell’s powers would have been useful in another time, another place. Once, paper was everywhere. Even once the digital revolution got underway, most offices still used it in stunning volumes. One couldn’t even buy a pack of gum at the store without being handed a paper slip larger than the gum itself.
In such a world, Terrell might have been a major powerhouse. In 2076? Not so much. Even complementary newspapers and toilet tissue tended to have so much composite carbon plastic in it that his power, which seemed to very selectively target vegetable matter, couldn’t touch it.
The pack of one hundred index cards, genuine paper ones, he used for lock work cost forty dollars by itself. It wasn’t much to him now, being in the secret employ of World Spider, but back when he was a penniless kid in need of fast cash, it had been a steep entrance fee.
But to put it into perspective, his powers combined with the index cards were worth more than any thieves’ tools.
The lock, like many mid-range home security locks, was pick resistant. There was a pin inside the tumblers that operated on an RFID signal from the owner’s key. It wouldn’t budge without it and if it didn’t move, the tumblers couldn’t either. Even trying to force it with a bump key just broke the mechanism instead of making the bolt slide open.
The lock’s weakness, as a young Terrell discovered, was that the owner never knew if the pin was working or not if they always used their proper key. All he needed to do was sever the pin where it passed through the holes in the tumblers.
For most thieves, this was impossible and they either used an RFID spoofing device (which could add a year or two to their sentence if it was found on them and wasn’t inexpensive), or threw caution to the wind and broke the lock and the bolt.
But for Terrell…
It was like signing his name again after going months without it. Whether he consciously remembered the steps or not was immaterial because his muscles did. With steady fingers, he fed the thin strip of paper into the key hole and used his powers to cause it to wriggle inside the space. By feel alone, he located the first tumbler and probed downward until the paper met resistance: the RFID-controlled pin.
Aside from its use in his lawless past, Terrell usually made no secret of his powers. While not very useful in the Digital Future, they were still an interesting way to break the ice even if it usually just involved semi-hands-free origami.
The part his didn’t tell people was the folding and unfolding paper or making it move on command were just the basic usages. He could do a fair bit more with fine control. For example, he could impress his will into a sheet to make it as rigid as sheet metal, even imparting sheer strength to it that paper shouldn’t have.
If he concentrated on the edge of such a sheet, and teased out the fibers to make the edge as fine as possible…
Physically turning the strip of index card, Terrell was rewarded by a quiet thumping noise as the pin was severed in half. One down, probably four more to go. He carefully withdrew the paper and started probing for the next tumbler.
In less than two minutes, what turned out to be all six tumblers were cut free of the pin. Terrell’s next trick was simply to make that same piece of index card change shape until it conformed to the inside of the lock and go rigid. Now holding his own paper key, he turned it, disengaging the deadbolt. He was in.
The glass door opened into a silent, sparsely furnished living room. It looked lived in; the pillows on the lone couch were in disarray, there were energy bar wrappers in the trash can, and the remote to the TV was on the couch instead of the coffee table; but there were no personal touches of any kind. There were no pictures, or knick-knacks, or plants—just the couch, table, television and two floor lamps.
Through an arch to Terrell’s right, he saw the kitchen in a similar state. The pitcher section of the blender was in the sink, there were a few plates and bowls in the dishwasher, and fast food cartons heaped in the trash, but no attempt had been made to make the place more of a home or even decorate it for the benefit of visitors.
Down the hall, there was a bathroom and two bedrooms that were just like that. Both bedrooms had been in use recently; by Terrell’s guess, by two men due to the lack of any feminine hygiene products. Aside from clothes in the hamper and closets, there were no personal effects.
And more conspicuous, no paraphernalia one might expect to be around when people were worshiping some evil god. No altar, no candles, and no skulls. While Terrell figured that a real cult might not be so blatantly evil, he did expect something to set them apart.
After a quick detour, he backtracked through the house. It was a standard suburban single level home and there wasn’t any superfluous furniture to hide any secret passageways in. There didn’t seem to be any extra space left unaccounted for in the floor plan either. What he saw was what he got: living room, bath, kitchen, bedrooms…
But no door leading to the attached garage.
Terrell wanted to slap himself. He’d gone past the garage to get in. It was one of the most ubiquitous parts of any house in the ‘burbs—he should have noticed immediately.
After a quick mental survey, he concluded that the door to the garage would have to be in the kitchen, but where?
He gave the room another once-over. There was a cheap Formica table, four chairs, a counter with built-in dishwasher and nooks for the microwave and rehydration oven… a brand new counter. It still had strips of tape here and there from where the home improvement place had packed it for shipping. Now that he stopped to look at it more closely, some of the measurements, written in chalk, were still scrawled on the surface.
Terrell rubbed his chin and straightened to look around the kitchen. Why would people who didn’t do any other decorating have a new counter installed and then not even get around to give it a few swipes with a dish cloth? They clearly didn’t use the counter for cooking, judging by the fast food bags…
It was then that the silence in the house truly hit his ears. He’d been in more than his fair share of houses and it was a given that no home was ever completely silent. Even discounting the ever-present hum of electrical wiring that most people tuned out, and seasonal necessities like the heating and cooling systems, there was always noise.
And in the kitchen, that noise should be coming from the refrigerator.
He looked over to the object in question. It was silent as a tombstone.
“There it is.” he whispered and went over to the appliance. Upon closer inspection, it was set too close to the wall. If it had been a working fridge, the coils would have to go somewhere, leaving a gap between the main body and the wall. This model was flush against the wall. Or rather the wall was flush against it—a section of it seemed to be glued there.
Terrell grabbed the sides and tested it. The whole thing moves smoothly against the floor on the kind of frictionless pads used by movers. With very little effort, he pulled the whole thing away from the wall, revealing the door to the garage.
No one put security systems on interior doors, so Terrell stepped right through.
“That’s more like it.” he said looking upon the den of the Adversarial Force’s worshipers.
The walls were papered over in a collage that seemed to be a monument to war, hate and destruction. There were flags from famously cruel regimes, blown-up photographs from every war, genocide, mass-murder and riot Terrell could remember, and still others of artwork depicting the hellscapes. Interspersed throughout were sheets of plain, white text with phrases on them like ‘we do not deserve this word’, or ‘Existence is a march to destruction’.
On the floor, arranged in a circle, were eight yoga mats, all facing a portable fire pit. The pit was full of ashes, all surrounding a large, heavy duty mason jar.
Acting against his own understanding of the horror genre, Terrell crept forward for a closer look. Wendell had explained that he needed to know how and what exactly the cultists worshiped in order to deal with them and that meant getting pictures and video of the whole room.
Mercifully, the jar didn’t contain squirming horror. What was inside looked like a homemade lava lamp. Within clear liquid, there were thick strands of something red and waxy that moved in sinuous patterns without a visible heat source.
Terrell crept forward to get a closer shot of it. He very quickly wished he hadn’t.
Heat washed over him and into him; a dreadful fever that made him stagger and feel weak. The air seemed to waver before his unfocused eyes. Somewhere in the distance, he head marching boots. Someone spoke passionately and with great anger in German. Voices screamed for blood in what he somehow knew was Sumerian. Machine guns chattered to back up clashing bronze and the screams of territorial apes before the sizzle of weaponized plasma lances and sequenced explosions overtook them all.
Terrell’s throat constricted and he looked around the room in a panic. The pictures were coming to life.
Red lightning rained down on San Juiz de Fora while the atomic bomb obliterated Nagasaki. Bodies were tossed into mass graves as a group of men in hoods hung another man from a tree. The whole brutal history of humanity played out before his eyes and in his head.
“This is what is beautiful.” said… something. Its voice wasn’t really a voice, just a presence; an oppressive entity that bore down on Terrell without really noticing he was there. “They kill each other so well. As they should.”
Before Terrell’s darting eyes, the phrases on the wall became highlighted and another voice, one that sounded like his own narrated.
“The end of humanity is a worthy goal.”
“Make war.”
“Exterminate yourselves.”
Terrell jerked back, out of the jar’s sphere of influence, and flattened himself back against the wall.
Everything was quiet again. The heat was gone. The burgeoning anger and hatred that had been boiling inside him faded away, replaced by icy fear. If there was necessarily a worse part, it was the certain knowledge he had that what just happened to him was a result of indirect contact.
Trying to keep his voice from shaking, he spoke into his comm. “Everyone? If you had any doubts that this thing was real before, I can confirm it. And we really need to put a stop to it.”
To Be Continued…
Series Navigation<< The Spider’s Seven #20 – The Setup (Part 1)The Spider’s Seven #22 – The Set-up (Part3) >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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One Comment

  1. Sorry for the lateness. Damn you auto-publish feature!

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