- The Spider’s Seven #1 – The Trickster God
- The Spider’s Seven #2 – The Penitent Thief
- The Spider’s Seven #3 – The Enforcer and the Faceman
- The Spider’s Seven #4 – The Wheelman
- The Spider’s Seven #5 – The Plan
- The Spider’s Seven #6 – The Base
- The Spider’s Seven #7 – The Myth
- The Spider’s Seven #8 – The Genius (Part 1)
- The Spider’s Seven #9 – The Genius (Part 2)
- The Spider’s Seven #10 – The Genius (Part 3)
- The Spider’s Seven #11 – The Monster (Part 1)
- The Spider’s Seven #12 – The Monster (Part 2)
- The Spider’s Seven Annual #1 – The Team
Terrell stopped about six feet from Anansi and folded his arms. Almost in spite of themselves, the others arrayed themselves behind him, unsure of how things were going to go down. “Alright. We need an explanation.” He said flatly. “A good one. No riddles, not vagueness, no cryptic bullshit. What is going on here?”
Anansi didn’t seem concerned at all with his demands. In fact, he seemed rather proud of them, smiling even more broadly than before. “Ha. You take my claims of divinity in stride, but the very idea that I might also be running a successful business enterprise befuddles and angers you. Very well, I will answer you in truth… but you’ve really answered two questions: What is going on here,” He raised his hand and gestured to encompass World Spider Industries above their heads, “And what is going on here.” He gestured downward, specifically at the spider mosaic on the floor.
Wendell took a nervous step back as he watched it. He was one hundred percent sure now that it was moving. He nudged Susan with his elbow and when she turned to glare, glanced down to direct her gaze. She stepped back form it too.
But Terrell seemed not to notice. “Both.”
Anansi ducked his head in an oddly subservient manner. “Excellent. Then walk with me.” He turned and headed for the security door at the end of the room with Terrell right behind.
Tommy gave Wendell and Susan an odd look as they tried their best not to step on the spider on the floor. “What are you two doing?” He asked in a low voice. Both of them pointed down at the same time. He stifled a gasp and joined them in giving the image a wide berth.
“World Spider Industries is something of my pet project.” explained Anansi, casting a sly glance back at the nervous three. “It started as a service provided by Quintillion called BrainTrust. The basic idea is that were are a distribution house for knowledge. At no cost, any knowledgeable professional can contribute peer-reviewed research, engineering designs, or other information into the World Spider database.
And for a small fee, educators, corporations, and other research teams can license that information from the contributor through World Spider. Thus, the knowledge remains useful and profitable without being horded through contractor agreements and patent buying. And as there is not cost for contributions, ideas that might otherwise be lost due to being unprofitable or unpopular are preserved.”
“Sounds like a fairly terrible business plan.” Wendell said, trying not to think about the mosaic behind him. “Why would companies us your system when they can run their own RnD departments and legally cut their researchers’ throats contract wise, keeping all the profit for themselves?”
Anansi chuckled. “Paying royalties to a handful of scientists for a product that works is far more economical than outfitting hundreds with the hope that a few will come up with something effective. But you are correct, the niche we fill is growing very slowly. Hopefully, it will expand once scientists find that there is a better way.
“In the meantime, World Spider Industries profits in other areas; rapid prototyping on demand via internet submission, renting out state of the art laboratories here at our facility. With our partnership with Quintillion, we can afford to take profitable risks.”
“Alright.” Terrell kept his arms folded. “That explains the business campus, but you said there’s another part to all this. I’m guessing it has something to do with our little elevator ride.”
Anansi turned to the panel at the side of the door, providing his hand to the scanner for biometric identification. “Indeed it does. Up there, as I said, is my pet project; the modern means of advancing my purpose. Down here… down here is my mission.”
The moment the door unlocked, he pushed it open with perfect timing to his words.
There was a short hallways beyond, adorned only with a narrow hall table and a set of brackets above it, which held a seven foot long wooden staff. Its ends were wrapped with linen strips, much like the bandages on Anansi’s hands and feet.
Beyond the hall, two eras, neither of which the others would associate with Anansi, collided.
There were bookshelves against the walls of the circular room, rising almost two full stories to the vaulted ceiling and crammed full. But in the spaced between them, there were server stacks, their faces alight with diagnostic screens and blinking lights. In the middle of the floor, tiled with black stone that was polished until it was reflective, were two leather arm chairs and a leather couch complete with an end table set with an old world globe. Between those was a retro styled stone and wood table with a holographic projector in the center.
On the far end of the room was a fireplace with a mantle decorated with detailed carvings of animals of the savannahs and mountains of Africa. This was at odds with the high tech security doors on either side of it, set catty-corner to the entry hall.
Anansi took up the staff from its brackets and couched it on his shoulder as if it should have always been there before descending the three short, broad steps into the larger room.
“Welcome to the operations room.” He walked around the seating to stand before the mantle. Without a single gesture or glance form him, a fire kindled in the hearth, instantly back-lighting him with its flame. “Please, have a seat.”
“Kind of homey, I guess.” Tommy gravitated to one of the arm chairs, marveling at his surroundings. Nothing really went together, even her could tell that much, but it somehow blended as if each piece was part of the same universal whole. He stared at the wooden animals as he sat, but thankfully, none of them seemed t be moving.
Wendell tried to get to the other armchair, but Terrell beat him to it, leaving only the couch for him and Susan. He hesitated, watching her take her seat. The couch groaned and sank a bit; she was heavier than she looked thanks to her extensive cybernetics.
He’d been doing some reading on the subject and modern replacement limbs rarely weighted more than the ones they replaced. In most cases, they weighted less. So there had to be a reason why Susan was actually heavier. Until he knew exactly what, he wasn’t comfortable around her. No one should have more surprises available than he had.
To get his mind off it, he seized on Tommy’s comment. “Yeah, homey. If you’re a pulp fiction adventurer.”
“I quite enjoy the genre.” Anansi replied, watching for Wendell to sit. “Especially the modern revival that is free of some of the unfortunate racial attitudes of the original. Stories reflect their tellers and their era, and I would not want that changed, but it is good to see that the genre lives on beyond that.”
“Right.” Wendell rolled his eyes at yet another mention of stories. He’d done some reading on the subject of Anansi too and felt the man was trying too hard. Very carefully, he sat on the couch, keeping a good distance from Susan without appearing to be avoid her.
Anansi ignored the sarcasm and gestured. The holo-projector came to life and drew a rough wireframe of the room they sat in. “As I said, this is the operation room, part of a facility I have set aside for your use during your employment.”
Without prompt, the wireframe expanded from the door to his right, drawing a long hallway with doors on their side.
“To my right is the habitation wing.” Each door sprouted a new room with a smaller room attached. “You each have your own suite with attached master bathroom and kitchenette.” At the end of the habitation wing, the wireframe drew a small room. “You will also have access to all of the employee amenities World Spider offers its employees; company gym, cafeteria, rec room, and the tennis courts on the grounds. The other employees will be informed that you are executive clerks working for me out of offices on the top floor.”
Susan scrunched up her nose. “We’re going to be living here? You never said anything about that.”
“Yeah, I’m not too crazy about this myself.” added Tommy. “I’ve got a live back in Atlantic City, you know?”
“Me too.” added Wendell.
“Do you?” Susan smirked at him.
He stoned his expression to return her look. “You don’t need people to have a life. What are you leaving behind anything besides a bunch of empty graves you were supposed to fill?”
Nothing in his self taught repertoire could have approached the adamant hardness that settled over Susan’s face. “You do not have any right to talk about me and what I’m leaving behind, Leiter. No matter what you think you know, or what advantage you think it gives you—” She snatched off his tie pin and closed her fist tightly before opening it to reveal the one straight bar of gold with its zirconium stud was now a misshapen ball from almost no effort on her part. “It doesn’t.”
She tossed the destroyed bauble into his lap and sat up on the couch, primly crossing her legs. “Please continue.” Her voice was entirely devoid of emotion.
“You will not be living with each other.” Anansi said automatically. “The suites are well equipped enough to function as full apartments. Mr. Lowell, the jet is yours unless we have need of it; you can return to your loved ones whenever you wish. Describe your absences as business trips, if you wish, I will provide the receipts and other proofs for cover.”
He indicated Susan and especially Wendell. “This friction brings me to another point. The World Spider Service and Quintillion’s unfiltered system will be available to you for as long as you make ethical use of it, and are under my employ.”
“What if some of us don’t make ethical use of it?” asked Susan, not looking at Wendell.
“Then you will no longer be in my employ.” He said simply. “There are already monitors in place that will prevent you from spying on one another with the system.” His penetrating gaze made it clear to Wendell that this would be his only warning and he nodded subtly to let the Spider know he understood.
That was all I took to switch gears. The wireframe drew another branching hallway from the other door.
“Through the other door is the functional wing. Within, you will find the supply room, which will be stocked to your specifications, a secure communications node, the World Spider console, armory, laboratory, and containment cell.”
“Those last three makes this sound like a prelate story again.” Terrell scowled.
“Hey, we are saving the world, after all.” Tommy was in much better spirits now that he knew he wasn’t abandoning his family and girlfriend. He threw a hesitant look to Susan. “I suppose the lab is for repairs?”
“I have a kit.” Susan said, still cold, but not as cold toward him. She had no specific beef with Tommy.
“As I understand.” Said Anansi. “The laboratory is for one of our remaining recruits, as is the containment cell.”
Terrell raised an eyebrow at this. “We need a containment cell for one of the people you want use to work with? I thought all of this was strictly voluntary.”
Anansi leaned slightly on his staff. “For you it is. But in case you haven’t noticed, almost all of my choices are people in need of some form of redemption; from you, the truly penitent, to Mr. Lowell, who has nothing to be penitent about, and yet still must be redeemed.”
He didn’t even bother with Wendell and Susan as it would be adding fuel to a fire. “In Texas, we will meet a special case, one whose evils go directly to the core.”
Tommy leaned forward, hands on his knees. “I don’t know. I’m not comfortable making anyone join. If you want to go through with it, you’re going to have to get yourself another driver.”
“And another heavy.” Susan added.
It no longer surprised them when Anansi smiled. “I am glad that you maintain your principles in all this. Rest assured that if I was speaking of a mere man, or descendants, or interfacer, I wouldn’t even dream of this course of action. I’m afraid that dealing with this man will be the point where I can no longer obfuscate the real nature of this world to you.”
“You’re starting to get vague again.” Terrell reminded, but less gruffly now.
“It can’t be helped.” Said Anansi with an air of a father who has spent the last two hours telling the kids that no, they are not there yet. “Until you see these things for yourselves, anything I tell you along those lines will sound like the ramblings of a madman. Which is why our first stop, after some time to get accustomed to your place here, will be Arizona, to find and persuade to our side our next recruit: The Myth.”
One year ago
It was the middle of June, but the desert at night didn’t care, it was letting the air swiftly wick away its heat.
She, on the other hand, was starting to care a great deal. The only thing keeping her form thinking about the cold settling into her limbs was berating herself about thinking those jerks were her friends.
If she’d just accepted that she wasn’t popular, just gave up hope of moving up the local food chain, then maybe all this could have been avoided.
But she hadn’t. When they told her they’d be having a party out in the desert, she jumped at it. It was her one-in-a-million miracle to join the in crowd and she didn’t even think about it before accepting.
The only party was in taking her coat and shoes and dumping her on a dirt road several miles outside of town with ‘WALK HOME’ scrawled on her arms and face.
It was too dark to see, and she’d lost the road a while ago. Everything was becoming an obstacle and it wasn’t helping that somewhere along the way, the terrain had gone form flat to littered with waist high rocks. She stumbled from one to the next, knowing full well that it would have been best to stay in one place, but it was just so cold and her fear was mounting by the minute.
It was a dip in the ground that finally caught her. Her foot turned and she felt a pop along with shooting pain just before going down. Her head glanced a rock and the darkness burst into white light for a moment.
Pain, confusion, and cold crowded in on her, numbing thought to a pin-sharp point.
The terror gripped her with grim finality. She wasn’t going to be found in time. She wouldn’t get to graduate, move out, go to college. She would never get her degree and do her family and heritage proud with her anthropology studies. No, it wasn’t fair. Unlike everyone else, especially those… those monsters that left her out here to die, she’d actually had a plan!
Why wasn’t she allowed to follow it?
Maybe it was the darkness, maybe it was the pain, or possibly she was just succumbing to her injuries; whatever it was, she perceived a green flash come over the world faster then any waking mind could have noticed.
And then she wasn’t alone. Something was standing near by, its body exuding heat. It growled, not in a menacing way, but a curious, oddly sympathetic noise. In another instant, it was beside her, nestling up against her, sharing it’s warmth.
Sleep began to take her, and she knew that she wasn’t going to wake up again Something pressed up against her mind in those last moments, as surely as it pressed against her back, and told her that everything would be alright.
And it was.
To Be Continued…