Mary Christmas 2: Christmas in July – Chapter 34 – by lostandwhatever
- Age Regression
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Continued from Chapter 33.
Tuesday, July 3rd, Morning
Justin was sweating slightly as he manipulated his tools to crack open the ray gun he had been examining since yesterday. He worked a knife-like tool into the seam between two halves of the casing of the gun and gently pried the weapon open, taking care to cause as little damage as possible.
“There it goes,” he said as the two halves spread apart.
Candice leaned in closer, while Carol stood on her chair, leaned forward, and put her hands on the desk near to Justin to get a better view of the device. They were both intent on making a careful examination of their last piece of evidence.
“Doesn’t look all that special inside, does it?” Carol asked.
Candice found her attention drawn more to Carol and less to the gun. Carol had become so small in just a couple of days. Now, she was wearing clothes from the “preschool” section of the store they had stopped at on the way to the office. It was the same general outfit as yesterday, overalls and a T-shirt, only scaled down of course. She had forgone new shoes and opted instead for a pair of sandals that she took off inside of the office. Although Carol pretended not to notice, everyone was giving her worried looks as she walked around as a barefoot child.
Candice herself had purchased a more comfortable pair of slacks and a dress shirt. It was a bit of work to find a bra that would fit her, but they managed it. At the checkout line, she had felt particularly guilty with the cashier treating Carol like her daughter. Carol had halfheartedly played along, though.
“What’s that there?” Carol asked, pointing her little finger at a metal cylinder inside of the device.
Justin said, “It looks like a standard capacitor. They’re used for sending out quick pluses of electricity. Probably used for firing the device. See, here. It connects to this circuit, which seems to connect to the trigger.” He was quiet for a moment as he repositioned his magnifying glass lamp to get a better view of the innards of the device. “Strange.”
“What is it?” Candice asked.
“It’s these components,” he said. “I recognize some of them. They’re mostly used in high-end electronics. This microchip is in a lot of cell phones now, for instance. Still, some of this stuff is pretty uncommon.”
“What do you mean?” Carol asked.
“Well,” he said. “This chip is mainly used by the military. It’s particularly expensive but very tough.”
“Where would Mary have gotten military microchips?”
“You got me,” Justin said. “Maybe she broke down some kind of military radio or something.”
An idea had just occurred to Candice. “Where did she make this?” she asked.
“In the farmhouse?” Justin guessed.
Carol said, “We didn’t find any tools for electronics there. She might have taken them with her, but we saw no sign of her doing any building. She might have used magic to make the gun.”
Candice shook her head. “If she had done that, then we would have detected it,” Candice said. “Justin, how hard would it be to make a gun like this without magic?”
“Well,” he said. “First, you would need to mold the casing. It’s not a repurposed toy. I checked. That would need a large machine. Then, you would need to solder the circuits together. That takes a few tools. You would have to order a lot of this by mail.”
“Was there any sign that Mary had the components or tools delivered to the farmhouse?”
“No,” Carol said.
“The gun is different from all the other ones that we know she’s made?”
“Yes,” Justin said. “There’s some similarities, but the design is very different.”
A terrible idea had occurred to Candice. “What if she didn’t make this gun?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, maybe someone else made it.”
“Who?” Carol asked.
“Military chips…” Candice said. “You know when I first came to Department 8, there was a general in the car with me. No one seemed very surprised to see him here.”
Justin said, “We get military people in here occasionally.”
“I think part of our budget comes from The Department of Defense,” he said, and then he turned to Carol. “Don’t they have some storage space on this floor?” he asked her.
“They do,” Carol said and then she shared a knowing look with Candice. “Do you think…?”
Candice nodded. She asked Justin, “Where’s this storage room?”
“Over by the vault,” he said. “But, why do you…?”
Candice felt a fire starting to burn inside of her. “Excuse me,” she said as she stood up and walked out of the room.
“Candice!” Carol said. “Wait for me!” She hopped off of her chair and chased after the elf.
The vault was easy for Candice to find. It radiated magic like a heat lamp. The room next to it was unmarked, but there was magic in there as well. It was faint and nearly drowned out by the vault’s magic, but she could still feel it. She tried the door handle. Unsurprisingly it was locked.
“Candice,” Carol said as she caught up.
“Who can open this door?” Candice asked Carol.
“I don’t know,” Carol said. “None of us are allowed in there. I don’t think anyone in our department even knows what’s in there.”
Candice wondered if she was strong enough now to kick the door open. She decided that she might even be able to blow it open with the right spell. Her mind began formulating a circle that might work.
“What are you doing?” Carol asked.
“I’m figuring out how to knock down the door.”
“You do realize that you’ll be breaking into US military property if you do that. Don’t you?”
“I don’t care anymore.”
“Help me or get out of my way!” she snapped at Carol, who cringed away from her. Candice softened her tone. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“I’m on your side,” Carol said. “You know that.”
“Yes,” Candice said, contritely. “I know.”
Someone asked, “What is going on here?” Candice and Carol turned to see Angela approaching, followed by other members of their team at department 8.
“I need to know what is in this room,” Candice explained to Angela. “It’s for the investigation.”
“I can’t open that door,” Angela said. “I’m under orders to stop you from even getting near it.”
“Mary was in that room,” Candice said. “I know she was. This is our last lead. Carol is almost out of time.”
They both looked at Carol who seemed to be shrinking even as they looked at her.
Candice said, “You need to open the door.”
Angela took a breath, sighed, and said, “For Carol.” She used her keycard to unlock the door.
Candice opened the door. The room was dark, but she found the light switch and flipped it on, illuminating tables and electronic equipment. It looked a lot like Justin’s work room, only larger. Unlike Justin’s work room, this room had racks full of guns. Candice picked up one of the guns from the racks and examined it. It was the exact same model as the gun that Mary had given her.
“Mary didn’t make the gun,” Carol said when she saw what was in the room. “She stole it… from us. We made that gun.”
Candice turned back to Angela and said, “You knew nothing about this?” She held up the gun for everyone to see.
“No,” Angela said. “It was beyond my security clearance. They would never tell me what was in here, even when I asked directly.”
Candice felt her emotions tripping over each other. Anger wanted to fight, while shock was ready to run, and all the while, confusion seemed to be winning.
Angela’s phone rang and she answered it. “Yes,” she said to the person who had called her. “It is open. I opened it.” She listened for a reply and said, “We needed to do it… for the investigation.” She listened again. “Fine, then. I will clear everyone out.” She ended the call and said to Candice, “I need to ask you to put that gun back where it was and then everyone needs to leave the room.”
“Who was that?” Candice asked as she set the gun back down. “The president?”
“Close,” Angela said. “It was the secretary of defense. He’s on his way here now.”
Carol watched from her chair as Candice paced back and forth across the conference room.
Candice was not exactly being held captive in there, but after Angela had asked her to wait in the conference room, a pair of guards had arrived to stand near the door. Although Candice had not tried it, she doubted that they would let her leave the room.
She kept pacing while she tried to think her way through the situation. “They were building their own youth guns,” she said. “After all the damage that Mary had done with those weapons, after all the work we did to get them away from people, and here they were making new ones.”
Carol said nothing, just listened.
Candice shook her head. “I’m so stupid. Of course they would be building their own guns. They’re the damn military. That’s what they do. They find the biggest and best weapons and add them to their arsenal.”
“Well,” Carol said. “Speaking from experience, I would much rather be shot with one of these guns than an actual bullet. And, at the very least, this is not like a new atom bomb.”
“No,” Candice said. “It’s worse than that. Much worse. At least the people who made atom bombs knew how they worked. The military hasn’t even figured out how to power their guns. Thank God for that. They don’t understand magic at all, which makes it even more dangerous that they’re messing with it. If they misuse it or overuse it, they could cause some real damage, I mean, catastrophic, apocalyptic damage. Atom bombs would seem pretty weak in comparison.”
“I see,” Carol said. She sighed. “The elves had no idea?”
“As far as I know, no one knew. They told me to be careful around the humans, to keep quiet about magic. They didn’t trust you. I wanted to trust you. I thought I could. I thought…”
“I’m on your side,” Carol said. “Everyone in Department 8 is on your side. We all want to do what is right. We want to stop Mary. We want to protect people from danger. Every one of us is dedicated to that. You know that, don’t you?”
Candice looked at Carol. Even appearing to be an innocent child, Carol seemed somewhat suspicious to Candice now. For a moment, at least, Candice doubted if she could believe her. Then, she sighed and realized that if she could not trust Carol, then there was no one she could trust. “I know you’re the good guys,” Candice said. “We’re on the same side. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more sides here than I realized.”
“Well,” Carol said. “At least, like you said, they don’t understand enough about magic to be dangerous yet. They can’t even power their weapons.”
“Can’t we?” a man’s voice said from the doorway.
Candice and Carol turned and watched as Secretary of Defense Taggart entered the room. “I think we might have just had a bit of a breakthrough,” he said holding up a notebook.
“Wait!” Dr. Schultz called from the hallway while a pair of soldiers frog-marched him past the windowed wall of the conference room. “My research! You can’t just take it like that. Please, hold on a moment. Let me go!” Then, they dragged him out of sight.
“Those are the doctor’s notes,” Carol said.
Taggart nodded and grinned. “Finally, we have the information we need to power the guns,” he said. “Thank you very much, elf, for giving us that last missing piece of the puzzle. You’ve been very helpful in teaching us a thing or two about magic.”
Candice felt her stomach drop. All the spells she had cast, everything she had said about magic, the doctor had been making notes about it all. She had trusted him. She knew he would never betray her or attempt something dangerous on his own. It had never occurred to her that the information he was gathering might fall into the wrong hands. And now, she had unwittingly given some of the secrets of magic away to the most dangerous people who could have them. She silently cursed herself for being so naive and careless.
“You don’t know anything,” Candice said. “All you know is how to light a fuse. You don’t know how to control it, and it’s going to blow up in your face.”
“We’re quick learners, we humans,” Taggart said. “We went from the Model T to armored tanks in less than a decade. We’ll have magic figured out even faster, I imagine.”
“And then what?” Candice said. “Magic on the battlefield? Magic in law enforcement? Magic mall cops? This isn’t like some basic chemistry or physics. You’re toying with the fabric of reality. You have no idea of the danger.”
“‘No idea of the danger?’” he said. “That’s rich coming from an elf like you. Let me tell you about danger. Danger is a single solitary little elf launching a worldwide attack on millions of people all while we’re sleeping. Danger is realizing that an entire species of powerful magical creatures have been living to our north for centuries without being detected and without even our best satellites being able to spot their home. Danger is knowing that every other powerful nation in the world is gearing up for magical warfare right at this moment, just the same as we are. They’re all gathering up every magical trinket on the face of the earth, and so are we. A new arms race has begun. The nation that controls magic, controls the world. You see? You’re friend Mary demonstrated to us just how dangerous magic can be. We all heard her loud and clear.”
Candice sighed. Mary had been right. She had told Candice she was looking at everything from the wrong perspective. She had called this all a game and said the gun was a game piece. Now that Candice knew what the game was, she realized that she was actually only a pawn after all. It was all so much bigger than one fugitive elf. If anything, Mary had only been a distraction from the real problem. Humans with magic would be more dangerous than a hundred Marys. Something had to be done to stop them, but Candice had no idea what she even could do. How could she stop the entire human world from racing to magic oblivion?
“So,” Carol said. “What now? Mary is still out there. She’s already proven how much harm she can cause, and she’s in possession of a powerful magical artifact. Are you going to stand in the way of us catching her?”
“Oh, little darling, the game is over for you,” he said. “I don’t think either of you is up to the task. You’ve already let her get the best of you. I think we can find some more competent investigators. And, now that we can power our new weapons, we should be able to handle capturing or killing Mary on our own.”
“You’re underestimating her,” Candice said. “The most powerful elves in the world underestimated her, and look what happened. As soon as you think you know what to expect from her, that’s when she’ll get you.”
“Well,” he said. “Thank you for the advice, but I think we’re done listening to you. It would appear that your time is up. We’ve given your embassy a call. They’re coming to bring you home right now.”
Candice and Carol exchanged a look. It was all over. They had failed. They had no way of getting the gun from Mary now. Carol might very well be doomed.
“I need to call Chris,” Carol said. “Excuse me.” She walked out of the room to find her phone.
Candice watched Carol go, feeling utterly heartbroken for letting her down.
“Now,” Taggart said. “One last thing for you and your elf friends. I’m sure you’ll share all of this with them. That’s to be expected. Make sure to share this message as well: we’re ready to fight now, and we’re not about to let fucking Santa Claus push us around anymore. We’re the goddamn United States of America, and this is our world. Don’t mess with us.”
As Candice and Carol waited in the lobby for their rides to show up, they struggled to find the right words to say, so they kept silent.
Eventually, Candice said, “I know you don’t want to hear it from me again, but I’m so sorry, Carol.”
“Me too,” Carol said. At that point, she appeared to be about 4 years old and every minute they waited meant that two more days evaporated away from her life. Her already small clothes were looking lose once more. “I suppose the other elves will be sending you home to put the glamour back on you.”
“They are,” Candice said. “I told them to contact you as well. What did they say?”
“They said they’ll be by my house to examine me, but they don’t want to try any magic on me until time is almost up. I suppose everyone is still hoping that this will stop on its own. When it looks like it won’t, then they’ll go for desperate measures.”
“I wish I could be there to help,” Candice said.
“So do I,” Carol said.
Again, they were left with nothing else to day.
“It pisses me off,” Carol said, petulantly. “I feel like we’re so damn close. We’re just missing something, some little detail. If only there was a bit more time left to look back over everything…”
“Everyone on the team is going to keep looking.”
“I don’t doubt it. They’ll do their best. Still, you and I were right there through it all, right at the scene of everything. We had the best view of everything. No one else will have that after we’re gone. It’ll be harder for them.”
A taxi pulled up in front of the doors to the lobby and Carol’s husband stepped out of it. He walked into the lobby and almost gasped when he saw the little girl his wife had become. Candice could tell he was freaking out but doing his best to hide that in front of Carol.
“Bye, Candice,” she said before slipping off the bench. “I really hope I get to see you again.”
“Bye,” Candice said and watched as Carol ran up to her husband and wrapped his leg in a big hug. He rested a hand on her back in return.
“Let’s go home,” Carol said. “My car is just outside in the lot.” She handed him the keys.
“Right,” he said and shared a quick look with Candice, and she saw a brief flash of terror on his face. “Let’s go home.”
They left, and Candice waited there alone, trying not to think of her failure but finding little else to occupy her mind. Carol is right, she thought. They had missed something, and it was agonizing trying to figure out what it was.
A car arrived with embassy regalia on it, the door opened and Candice saw that the girl elf she had met with the chief two days ago was sitting in the back seat. Candice took her suitcase and placed it in the trunk. Then, she entered the car, taking a seat next to the girl, and they drove off.
The girl said, “Welcome back, Agent Cain.”
Candice did not reply. She just looked back over her shoulder as the building for Department 8 receded behind them.
The girl continued, “We’ll be heading to the embassy first. You’ll give us a full debriefing on your experience with the humans. Then, we’ll drop you at your hotel for the night. You’re flight will be leaving tomorrow morning.”
“Right,” Candice said and gazed out the window at the green summer scenery as they drove along, realizing that this would be one of the last days she would spend in a warm summer climate.
“Time for you to return to your glamour,” the girl said. “Things will be back to normal again for you soon.”
“No,” Candice said. “I don’t think so. Not after everything that’s happened. Normal is over.”
Mary sat eating her chicken dinner as a live chicken clucked around her heels. It walked beside her, paused, and looked up at her expectantly.
“What?” she asked it. “Feeling cannibalistic?”
The chicken did not respond.
Mary shook her head. “No human food for you,” she said. “Not yet. First, you need to lay another egg and finish your feed. Then, I might give you back your apartment… and your humanity.”
The chicken gave Mary its version of an angry look. Then it walked, bobbing its head, over to the towel that had been designated as its nest and sat down on it under the bright lamp and next to its bowl of water and pile of feed. After a moment, it felt the weight inside of its uterus shift and then felt the new egg slide out of its cloaca. Next, came the hard work of squeezing and pushing the massive egg again and again, moving it gradually, painfully down its vaginal canal until the egg emerged out onto the towel and the chicken let out a loud cluck of relief.
“Very good!” Mary said. “Now, eat your feed.”
The exhausted chicken bucked as it walked over to begin pecking at its pile of unappetizing feed. While it ate, Mary collected the egg from the nest and held it up to admire it. To her elvish eyes, the egg practically sparkled with magic.
“Hey!” She called to the wood golem that was standing motionless on the other side of the room. “I think we should have enough of them now. We’ll be ready for the big show tomorrow.” She looked out the window at the city and smiled. “It’ll be one they’ll never forget.”