56.3 - Getting Out of Hand (Alycia's Tale)

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I've been dealing with some real writers block of late, not helped by some unexpected stresses, plus family visiting for a loooong weekend. So maybe I'll try taking some of this in shorter chunks, just as the mood seizes, rather than trying to crank out a full throttle thing. "You can wait here. Lucius'll be back in a bit." The bistro worker, Jaycee, shows us to a back room at Has Beans (yes, yet another coffee shop with an inane pun in its naming), where a big, round, folding table is set up. Around it is a mish-mosh of furniture -- kitchen chairs, patio chairs, some sort of antique folding chair -- all of it worn and used. I pick out a wooden chair painted a deep blue that reminds me of an alpine lake, one with a good view of the door to the room. As I and the others sit, I am incongruously reminded of the Norman English tales of the Round Table of knights, summoned by a mythical autocrat to dispense justice throughout the land. After a moment, I realize  the inspiration for that stray thought: Lucius is one of those secretive Grail Knights, who pull together anachronistic Arthurian medieval trappings with syncratic Celto-Christian imagery.  I shake my head, and watch as Jaycee takes drink orders. I'm told the brews here are good -- from the look of it as we entered, it's a much more neighborhood shop, drawing in an older crowd, than a millennial-attracting place like Blintzkrieg. Summer -- who should know better, working at a rival shop, but, of course, not someone who has to worry about it -- orders some abomination of sugar and flavor and whipped cream and sprinkles with enough calories to feed a small village. Charlotte goes for a "dirty chai," an American variant on masala chai with a shot of espresso.  I might try that another time, but I've already ordered a triple espresso with room for sugar.  "Um, you mean room for cream?" "No, room for sugar. I use a lot of it." It's not Turkish, but it will do in a pinch. Adam goes for a flavored hot chocolate, and Harry (who definitely doesn't need the caffeine) orders a spiced apple cider. Then we start talking.
I have to confess, Summer and I make an oddly effective tag team.  The term "good cop / bad cop" dates back (in the English-speaking world) to at least the 1950s , but its use in policing is likely as old as professional police forces, and the tactic itself has been traced back in Western literature to the Illiad .  It's generally used now in the media more as a shortcut, or a source of humor -- the most effective police interrogation techniques are generally considered to be all "good cop," though many states and private actors tend toward "bad cop," mistaking coercion of action to coercion of will. I haven't had the opportunity to recycle that particular paper at this school. It would needs some serious editing. Regardless, Summer takes an effective role of "good cop". Because of course she does. And nobody would need to ask who in our pair would play the "bad cop," right? Not like we are actually working to a common end, precisely. Summer knows of my concerns about team leadership, and regarding the team as a whole. This seems a useful time to introduce the subject, as we are all gathered together, but ... I am reluctant to broach it myself. I labor under no misapprehension as to how the others feel about me -- being pushy about how the team operates, putting people on the spot about it, will only add resentment, spin the conversation off in unpredictable directions. I mean, to be fair, I am pushy and blunt by nature, no question. But I don't always lead with a truncheon.  So Summer says some nice things about Harry's press conference (which, to be fair, worked out far better than I would have expected from him -- he is a far more thoughtful individual than he usually lets on). Then she starts laying the ground work, talking of how the team is At a Crossroads, how it is a Time of Change, throwing me a huge wink that probably nobody even in the next room beyond the closed door missed. Yes, I get it, Summer. You're setting things up, creating an opening.  I could carry on with a reasoned analysis. Or I could be petty and force her to keep talking. But it is  a good opening. I set down my coffee cup. "So, who's in charge?" Then we start talking.
It's a moment of perfection. Charlotte hurls the contents of her coffee cup at the giant, writhing arm-of-arms. For a flash-instant, I wonder if her dirty chai is that hot, then realize she's doing one of her disturbing ghost-magic-possession things, as the coffee causes the limbs making up the massive arm and hand gripping Summer to -- I've seen ugly wounds. I've caused some. In this case, the only analog I can think of is a rifle shot driving along the length of an arm, shattering the bone, causing the flesh to explode outward. -- the arms dissolve into muck and mud in contact with the chai, peeling back away from the core, the bits spraying apart to stain the walls and floor at the hole torn through the outside of Has Beans , coating the dirty asphalt of the alley beyond, leaving a weaving, twisting tentaculed creature. Summer tumbles free, I note with a fraction of my brain, letting me redirect my attention to the arm as a whole. But instead of its breakup showing broken, shattered bone -- -- bones -- -- I see a skeleton within, old, ancient, yellowed and dusty -- The arm starts to reform, the melted constituent limbs reforming, swirling to cover and protect/hide the figure within. -- with the wrong number of ribs. Just like a denizen of the Sepiaverse. Or a Vyortovian. If only -- A moment of perfection. "Grenade!" The voice is old, harsh, unfamiliar, and my first thought is that it's a warning, but my brain is racing even as I turn toward the voice and I see the older man the fist was initially holding (87.6% the heretofore missing Lucius) tossing at me an oblong -- -- I smoothly snag the grenade on my right hand, flip the pin out with my thumb, and lob it into the mass before me, the skeleton, even as the arms re-envelope it -- -- a perfect moment -- -- and backflip-roll-roll-roll away ... WHUMPH The arms themselves suppress much of the explosion, in force and sound, but the reaction from the arm as a whole is instant, the constituent parts breaking down, tossed about, losing -- -- losing their form, collapsing, turning into something like massive leeches, lampreys, writhing aimlessly for a half-moment, then slithering away at speed in all directions, melting into cracks, sliding into gaps in the wall, the drains ... But even as everyone takes a step to intercept the ones they can, even as Lucius calls us back, it occurs to me: is it wrong that I haven't felt so alive in months?