Fate has a funny way of playing with people's lives. Grace Anne has begun a journey, and her first stop along the way is a quaint village in France. However, during her absence from Sunset Valley, events are unfolding that will have an effect on the choices she will be forced to make after she returns.
While Grace Anne is away, you'll be introduced to many new characters, each having a part to play in Grace Anne's destiny. Some of the actions they are taking will be covered in this chapter; some in the next...
While Grace Anne is away, you'll be introduced to many new characters, each having a part to play in Grace Anne's destiny. Some of the actions they are taking will be covered in this chapter; some in the next... On the morning Grace Anne was leaving for France, Ariel called out after her:
"Good-bye Grace Anne. Relax; I'm sure last night's burglary attempt was just a fluke. Have a wonderful vacation and I'll see you in a few weeks!" "Hey, please bring back every type of grape you can find for the new nectar machine. I also need the palladium we talked about." Ariel felt so relieved to have Grace Anne gone for a little while. She had so much to do and the list kept getting longer by the day.
It felt good to sit down in front of the computer to send Dr. Manson an email without the fear of Grace Anne walking up behind her, asking what she was doing... "Hmm. Dr. Manson still hasn't responded to any of the emails I've sent him. This is interesting, though. I need to find the gemstone adamant. Okay, fine, but why do they want to know if I've been doing any gardening lately?"
Ariel logged off the computer and started her work for the day: find palladium, and fast! Ariel zoomed up the hill behind their house and headed for the outskirts of town. It was good she had something to occupy her mind. The attempted burglary last night had terrified her, but now she felt more confident.
The Sunset Valley Police Department was busy this morning, too. Captain Angus McDonald was scrutinizing the report filed by Officer Rose concerning an attempted burglary at the Browning residence for clues that might explain why Twyla Summers, computer geek, had suddenly turned into a sneak thief... Lieutenant Hank Goddard stepped into Captain McDonald's office as soon as he arrived at the Police Station.
[Goddard] "Excuse me, Captain. The duty officer told me to come straight to your office as soon as I checked in today."
[McDonald] "Yes Hank. Step on in. I need you to take care of an arrest that occurred last night. The officer involved was injured while detaining a suspect so I need you to review the case and finish the paperwork." [Goddard] "An injured officer on the overnight shift? Are there any specifics you need to brief me on? I feel uncomfortable taking over another officer's case without speaking to them directly."
[McDonald] "The officer in question is Tia Rose. She was taken to the hospital after a fight broke out with a burglar at the Browning residence. Do you know Grace Anne Browning, or what a burglar might be interested in at her house?" [Goddard] "No, I don't know Ms. Browning. Captain, you need to know I reassigned Officer Rose to last night's duty roster. We've had to pull so many officers to assist the CyberCrimes Unit...."
[McDonald] "I'm aware of all that. I, personally, went to the ER last night when Officer Rose was admitted. Her doctors assured me she will be good as new after a short medical leave.
"What's really important about the case is Twyla Summers. She works at the science facility, and has no priors. I need to find out what she was after. Can you take care of that?" Lieutenant Goddard stopped by his office before heading to the holding cells. He HAD to share the news about Tia Rose with his partner, Lance Huntley.
[Goddard] "Can you imagine it? Her first night in a patrol car, and Tia gets in a fist fight trying to bring down a burglar! AND, to make it even funnier, the perp was tiny little Twyla Summers!"
[Huntley] "No way! Tia's always got her head buried in a procedures manual. Sure, she had to pass the department physical, but she never seemed the type to GET 'physical,' if you know what I mean." [Huntley] "Let's see if we can pull up the footage from Tia's patrol car videocam."
[Goddard] "Oh my god! How could she see to drive covered in all that blood, with her face swollen up like that?"
[Huntley] "She's a lot tougher than I would have given her credit for!" [Goddard] "I can just imagine the scene: Tia feeling like Wonder Woman without the leather and spandex costume. What must Twyla have thought when she jumped her? I think those girls went to school together."
[Huntley] "Seriously, though. Is Tia okay?"
[Goddard] "Captain McDonald himself went to the ER last night, and said she will be on medical leave for a little while. I've been assigned to get a statement from Twyla and finish the paperwork to send over to the DA. Assault of a police officer; she's gonna grab some jail time for that." [Huntley] "You look a bit peckish to me. Better grab a bagel before going to the holding cells."
[Goddard] "No kidding. If I don't eat one now, they'll be gone when I get back."
[Huntley] "How do you think I maintain my girlish figure? A man's gotta eat, Hank!"
Huntley grabbed a bagel, laughing about Hank's new assignment.... Twyla Summers stood forlornly inside her cell. The cops weren't her main concern. It might even be good if they can keep her "on the inside" until things blow over at the science facility. Dr. Manson had a mean streak in him, and this little incident wouldn't go unnoticed. [Goddard] "Hmm. Twyla Summers. Can't remember seeing you in here before, but I must say, that orange jumpsuit is a real fashion statement. How do you feel about wearing it for a while?"
[Summers, pouting] "Well I know about you, Hank Goddard. What happened to the little girlie who dragged me in here last night? Not feeling so well this morning?"
[Goddard] "My, my. Look at who got up on the wrong side of the bed. Oops, my bad. There is only one way to flop off that cot. Sleep well? You look like crap." [Summers] "Oh Hank! Don't be so cruel. You can't imagine what a horrible night I had. I didn't sleep a wink. The guy in the next cell over snored all night! I don't belong in jail! This was a complete misunderstanding, you know."
[Goddard] "Hardy-har-har. There wasn't anyone else in these cells last night but you. You must have heard yourself snoring. You do bring up a good point, though.
"What the hell were you thinking? Your rap sheet has one line on it saying 'stupid attack.' Tell me something valuable and I'll see if we can work out a deal with the DA." [Summers] "I was led astray. It isn't my fault. I heard a rumor at work and simply HAD to find out if it was true.
"Oh god! What am I saying? What I meant to say was, I heard a rumor at work that the Browning house was loaded with ancient treasures. Yeah, that was what I was after.
"Promise me you won't repeat a word about the science facility! Promise me!"
Twyla broke down into violent sobs and Hank couldn't stand to watch. There was no reason to move her into an interrogation room now. He wouldn't get anything coherent out of her. Seeing Hank turn away, Twyla tried to compose herself enough to call him back. She needed protection. Those cameras monitoring her cell could be hacked into easily, and anything she said could be heard by people she didn't want to tick off. [Huntley] "You can't be serious! Twyla doing undercover work for that science lab back in the hills? She's a small fish in a tank filled with piranhas. Oooh. Maybe that's why they chose her; she's expendable."
[Goddard] "No, she was probably just bored out of her scull from working at the geek tank up there. Think about it. The Browning house is on a dark, dead end street with no neighbors. The only thing interesting in that house is her fancy-pants robot." [Huntley] "Ah! That reminds me. We may have made a breakthrough on the CyberCrimes Unit. The Sim-I-A runs a software program now that 'listens' to everything going on in the electronic world. They claim it's for national security. Personally, I think they just use it to tap into everyone's private lives and sell all the juicy details to the tabloids." [Huntley] "Anyway, the SVPD asked for federal assistance on our deluge of cyber crimes in the last several weeks, and we got a hit last night! Some wildly irregular activity has been linked back to an underground cell in France. It's fantastic!" [Huntley] "Come over here and take a look at all the data the feds dumped on us last night. The printers just stopped spitting out pages an hour ago. The encryption is extremely sophisticated, but between the specialists we've added to our staff and the Sim-I-A, we'll crack it!
"If I believed in such things, I'd think it was alien in origin. Some of these characters aren't recognizable as any known languages in our database. It's mesmerizing. I've been watching it stream all night." [Goddard] "I can't pretend I have the slightest idea what I'm looking at..."
[Huntley] "Viewed as a raw feed, I can't tell you what it is either. Whatever it is, though, it's huge!"
[Goddard] "It's all Greek to me. I'm gonna go grab some air. And just so you know, I see you're trying to hog all the bagels again, dude." As Hank stepped away from his office, a couple of visitors arrived for Twyla Summers.
[Warner] "Good morning Ms. Summers. I trust you slept well. I certainly hope so, because I didn't. Your shenanigans last night caused quite a stir.
"I regret to tell you that Dr. Manson is no longer assigned to this branch of the organization. He was transferred to the Sea Weed Quality Research Team off the coast of Barnacle Bay." [Warner] "I have stepped in and taken control of this branch of the organization. My name is Dr. Warner. This gentleman is Ersatz Eruditus, III. He is one of our top litigators from the Bridgeport branch office.
"I asked him to come down today and finish cleaning this mess up. Do what he tells you, no matter how odd it may sound. He has the full backing of the organization here in Sunset Valley."
[Summers] "Dr. Manson is... well... gone?" [Warner] "I don't really have much to say about Dr. Manson. His reassignment was inevitable. You, on the other hand, have shown some chutzpah. Such behavior deserves recognition.
"I glanced over your past performance reviews and can see a new place for you in the organization. You may have heard of our outstanding Carnivorous Plant experimentation program? You are perfectly suited to oversee that program." [Summers] "The black hole?! The people who tend those plants disappear into the subbasements of the building and are never seen again!"
[Warner] "Nonsense. True, you will be relocated to live full time inside the facility and everything will be supplied for you. There is absolutely no need for you to ever leave your fabulous laboratory-slash-living quarters. This is definitely a step up in your career. Believe me, this is exactly where we need you." [Warner] "I'm leaving you to finish up here, Ersatz. The agreement with the DA has already been made. I suspect she is passing the news to the Chief of Police at this very moment. I am very late for an important meeting, and you know what needs to be done with Ms. Summers." [Twyla struggled to contain her sobs] "Dr.Warner, there is one more thing you should know. As the police officer was loading me into the squad car, I noticed a stranger dressed in foreign clothes.
"He disappeared, as if by magic, when the officer tried to question him, but it may be important that someone else was staking out the house."
[Manson] "Someone ELSE staking out the house. You shouldn't have been there in the first place! I suppose it could be important to know about the appearance of people you don't know, being a local citizen. I have to leave now, but if you think of anything else, no matter how trivial, be sure to tell Mr. Eruditus about it." Captain McDonald sat and stared at his phone. As Dr. Warner predicted, the Chief of Police just informed him that no charges would be filed against Twyla Summers. It was impossible to believe assault on a police officer performing her duty was being swept under the rug.
Scientific research facility, bah! No one really knew what was going in that building, sitting back in the hillside. They must be powerful indeed to shut everything up so quickly and neatly.
With a sigh, he asked the desk sergeant to page Lt. Goddard. [McDonald] "Hank! Come on in. I was just getting ready to have a cup of coffee. Care to join me?"
[Goddard] "I would love a hot cup of joe, but can't take you up on your offer. Twyla Summers was a basket case when I checked on her earlier, and need to see if she's in fit condition to make a statement now."
[McDonald] "Just as well. The rock I'm about to drop on you probably wouldn't sit well on a gut full of coffee. Twyla Summers is being released. Her attorney is with her now. The DA arranged a plea bargain with a shark from Bridgeport; community service at the science facility itself." [Goddard] "What a travesty! Summers was caught INSIDE the residence, an obvious case of breaking and entering with intent to rob, loot, pillage, whatever. She assaulted a police officer! A police officer I assigned to patrol last night."
McDonald slumped in his chair.
"Hank, Hank. Please understand. As hard as it is to swallow, the laws you and I are sworn to uphold are constantly manipulated by bureaucrats. The ends justify the means. For all that it's worth, I agree with you, but our hands are tied." Lance Huntley looked on as his partner sunk into his chair without saying a word. Things must not have gone well with McDonald. It was pretty unusual to be in the big guy's office twice in one day, and it never boded well.
Somehow, Lance didn't think offering Hank a bagel would be a good idea right now. Hank started updating Tia Rose's report on the Browning burglary. It was a useless gesture; the paperwork would get lost in bureaucratic red tape anyway.
His thoughts went out to Tia. She would not be pleased, and he couldn't blame her. She had proven to be a little spitfiire last night and he simply didn't know how to explain it to her.
Twyla Summers was getting off, free as a bird! Or so he thought.... Back in the holding cells, Ersatz Eruditus III started cursing the situation immediately after Dr. Warner left. Twyla had taken on that "deer in the headlights" look and would be difficult to maneuver.
At least the goofball still had a job, as unpleasant as it may sound. Oh well, let HR handle that. What he needed to do was get her moving so he could be back in Bridgeport by tomorrow morning. [Eruditus] "Twyla, try to focus. I have tons of paperwork to go through with the District Attorney, and she was not happy about being... bulldozed was the term I think she used."
[Summers] "If the DA doesn't want to drop the charges, perhaps she's right. Maybe I should go to jail. I'm certain I don't have the qualifications to perform the job Dr. Warner expects of me." [Eruditus] "Listen to me Twyla. Dr. Warner is jet-lagged, taking over an organization that has been poorly managed, and called to the Police Department before she had her first cup of coffee this morning. The new job sounds like a piece of cake. Watching plants grow sounds about as hard as watching water boil.
"Think of it; being waited on hand and foot can't be all bad. Change out of that hideous jumper and clean yourself up. I'll gather you before I leave and drop you off on my way back to Bridgeport."
[Summers] "No, I suppose you're right. After all, I did break the law and only got a slap on the wrist for it. I owe the science facility for helping me out."
Eruditus thought to himself, "Oh, you'll pay dearly for all the attention you've drawn to Dr. Warner and her work." As things progressed steadily at the Police Station, Dr. Warner sped out of town to meet with her new partner who had been set up to operate out of the:
Newly refurbished Goth Manor....... [Warner] "I'm Dr. Warner. It's a pleasure to finally meet you Professor Crowley. It looks like you found the house okay."
[Crowley] Hmph! "Yes, Doctor. I DID find the house, although I was told you would meet me down the hill at headquarters!" [Warner] "Yes, I must apologize for my tardiness. I had a matter to attend to in town and you were already en route, so there was no way to contact you. It is going to be very inconvenient to keep you informed on pertinent events as long as you return every electronic device we provide for you." [Crowley] "I have my reasons for distrusting ANY electronic device or technology I don't personally oversee the production of. There is always someone listening, spying, stealing your valuable work.
"Obviously, that is why I've come here. Because of my past encounters, I am the ONLY person capable of seeing this highly important project through to its intended use!" "Well, my day is getting off to a GREAT start," thought Dr. Warner.
[Warner] "The interior of the house has been refurbished, and a powerful security system is in place...."
[Crowley] "WHAT! You installed a security system without my express permission? I-AND-I alone am qualified to determine what to use, how it is installed, where it is installed!!" [Crowley] "Don't take that pose in front of me! I should have been known around the world as THE expert in all things mechanical, electronic, cybernetic years ago. What passes as high technology to the rest of you poseurs is second-rate! How dare you presume to proceed without my direction...." [Warner] "BACK OFF! I was told about your little 'eccentricities' concerning modern technology and have taken all that into account. We have the greatest respect for your, 'reputation,' as you put it, in the scientific community.
"NOW, if you will allow me to get a word in edgewise, I will explain each security trap in detail, as well as demonstrate its use." [Warner] "One of our subsidiary companies in Al Simhara came across a cache of ancient security devices. You may have heard about it; it was big news."
[Crowley began shaking and interrupted:] "Yes I HAVE heard of the discoveries made in the desert recently! They are supposed to be very nasty indeed! (tick) I thought we were talking about my security system."
Dr. Warner was beginning to lose her patience.
[Warner] "These pieces of ancient technology are what we used to design the protection system for your home and lab."
[Crowley] "Excellent, excellent. It will be marvelous to see them in operation first-hand. I am pleasantly surprised, Doctor. Lead on!" Professor Crowley pushed past Dr. Warner into the front gate of Goth Manor, oblivious to her warning about the hidden security system.
Warner was thinking to herself, "I better stop that fool before he sets off one of his own traps!
"Really, it might be worth the trip out here to see him get a little singed, but there would be endless paperwork to follow if I allowed that!
"Drat!" [Warner] "Professor Crowley, before you actually go into the house, I want to point out the largest of the protective systems.
"Goth Manor is famous as a haunted house. There is a family cemetery off to the side, just there. To deter sims from sneaking in to see the ghosts (and there ARE ghosts), we closed off the entire front entry with an electrified hedge maze.
"It seemed less conspicuous than a 10-foot high electric fence, and I assure you, the sizzlers installed inside that maze will send up sparks you will be able to see from your bedroom window!" [Warner] "Another point of interest at this house is the urban legend that dragons live in the water on the property.
"I thought, if the locals want to see some fire, the least we can do is oblige them. Allow me to activate the fire traps. As you can see, any point of entry has been prepared to repel 'invaders.' It seemed to be a fitting reward for any curiosity seekers." [Warner] "Coming on around to the far side of the house is the family graveyard.
"While we have effectively closed off the front entry with the maze, we needed to address this rear gate in case some brave soul decides to thoroughly test our system. More "cracklers" protect the path, and poisoned darts flank each side.
"I must admit, this has been one of the most challenging security systems I've encountered, but seeing it's wickedness personally has been most satisfying!!"
Professor Crowley lost control of the dour appearance he normally displayed, and danced around like a mad little gnome. After completing the tour, Dr. Warner and Professor Crowley wound up back at the front gate.
[Crowley] "I can see the effectiveness of your security system, but the obvious question remains unanswered. Where, exactly, did you hide my laboratory and how secure is it?" [Warner] "All good things come to those who wait, Professor. The real magic lies inside the Manor.
"But before we continue, I think it's important we discuss Ariel. She doesn't know Dr. Manson has been, uh, reassigned...
"His calls are being rerouted and I'm administrating his incoming email, but she will need to be informed of the new chain of command." [Crowley] "Keep stalling her. She knows of me; I created her.
"Eventually, she'll try to get in touch with me directly. When she does, I'll pretend to 'come here to check things out.'
"It will be the perfect cover story for why I'm REALLY here, don't you think?" [Crowley whispers] "At this stage, everything must be handled delicately. Ariel's my prototype model, and her reaction to change is unpredictable."
[Warner] "I'll stay in the background, then. The few people who DO know I've replaced Dr. Manson won't be in contact with Ariel, anyway. Your secret should be safe.
"If you're game, let's venture into the heart of Goth Manor."
[Crowley] "Could we stop for a little snack, first? I'm dying for a good bagel." Nighttime had set at the SVPD before Twyla was finally released. Her attorney, Mr. Eruditus was waiting for her.
[Eruditus] "Captain McDonald granted me use of his office before he left for the day. Ah, dear, you look lovely. Pink suits you much better than day-glo orange. We have a few formalities to go over, then it's off to the facility grounds." [Summers] "I don't understand. I thought you spent the whole day going over the formalities with the DA while I waited in my cell. What more do we need to go over?" [Eruditus] "Yes, I did spend the rest of the morning with the District Attorney. You are free to leave at any time. I spent the afternoon in the city Records Office.
"The paperwork I'm speaking of has to do with disposition of any assets you may have before signing your new employment contract. We need you to sign over any property you own to the facility. It is the best way to safeguard your possessions." [Summers] "Oh no, we won't have to do anything that drastic. My home belonged to my parents. Although it is paid for, I can't just sign it away. I'll ask a family member to take care of all my stuff while I'm in this new job.
"After all, this is a career path promotion. I can move on to better positions within the organization after proving myself as a worthy employee. I'll need my things then, right?" [Eruditus] "Ms. Summers, this is non-negotiable. You will sign an employment contract with the science research facility as a condition of your release from jail. In addition, you must surrender all your property as a condition of your further employment.
"You simply have no choice, my dear. Oh, and before I forget, you'll need to hand over your cell phone." The realization of what was happening to her began to dawn in Twyla's eyes. She was effectively being cut off from the outside world.
Ersatz Eruditus looked down at the floor and thought to himself, "Sometimes this job sucks. Must be why I enjoy it so much!" Here's the scoop. The writer of this story messed up big time. Chapter 3, Grace Anne's trip to France, seemed to fly by quickly. In fact, several days passed; after all, she had to wait for her car to be shipped from Sunset Valley to France.
Far more was happening in Sunset Valley during Grace Anne's absence than could be adequately covered in one chapter. The "Suspicious Liaisons" were laid bare in Chapter 4.
Chapter 5, "Fiendish Plots," will tell the remainder of the events unfolding, bringing everything into sync. Grace Anne will return to a whole new world in Chapter 6, but she doesn't know that yet. More and more secrets.....
The Machine Part 4 - Suspicious Liaisons
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