Teasers & Deleted Scenes"Mythology"
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., July 2008
"What about wendigoes?" Hafidha asked.
"Wendigoes. Eeeevil creepy spirits that possess poor mortals and give them a taste for the long pig." Hafidha wiggled her fingers across the air before Worth's face as she trailed across the office for another folder.
Worth brushed them off with a dog's resigned puff. The breath lifted the pages of the report perched on her chest. She propped herself up better on Hafidha's awful couch--sunflower velvet, and you couldn't get the woman to admit how she got it from whatever garage-sale hell through the narrow office halls and into this crabbed angle of a room, never mind past security--and scooped her carton of lo mein off the floor. Hafidha was clearly only happy in what resembled a server room. With a record sixteen stacks of files. And magazines. And an eye-killingly yellow couch.
"Twenty to one it's a mythology. Wendigoes are gammas," Hafidha continued, and shoved a handful of papers in the folder. And shoved the folder onto a pile stacked, altarwise, in front of a blown-up library poster of Stephen Hawking hugging a book. Hafidha didn't hold with filing cabinets. So they'd started sorting the work by the posters on the wall: The Steve for definitely non-anomalous, The Truth is Out There for maybes. Robert Smith's teased-up hair and badly-applied eyeliner for yes, the spider-man is having you for dinner tonight.
Robert Smith was, luckily, going hungry so far.
The thought made Daphne Worth, well...not.
"I wonder if they make soy long pig." Daphne poked at the noodles with one chopstick. Sniffed 'em. She wasn't hungry anymore, not really, but admitting that in Shadowland was tantamount to suicide by swarming. And after two days on Hafidha's improbable couch sifting every cold missing persons case north Washington State'd spit out in the last fifteen years, she didn't much feel like talking mythologies either.
"Wendigo Gamma scorns your soy product." Hafidha scooped up another stack of photocopies. "Wendigo Gamma scorns those who cannot use a scanner."
"You're saying wendigoes are gammas." The noodles hung limp off her chopstick. They didn't smell like food anymore. That, she reminded herself, is when you stop eating.
"I'm saying wendigoes are gammas who think they're wendigoes."
"It already exists, you know." Solomon Todd came through the doorway of the office nose-first, peeking into the room as if to declare it clear. "Wendigo Psychosis. A culture-bound disorder wherein members of Native American communities get themselves a yen for human flesh. Like the vanishing penis meme, except they usually kill themselves because they're so scared of turning into cannibals. Come to think of it, I knew a guy back in California, half Comanche Indian, never ate at the table with the rest of us..."
"No you didn't," Worth said, and lifted up a snarl of noodles dubiously.
"I'm hurt," Todd said, and dumped a whole new stack of files on the edge of Hafidha's desk. His shirt was dented, accordionlike, where they'd balanced against his chest.
Maybe he had. Maybe he hadn't and didn't remember the difference anymore, 'cause he'd told it so many times.
Either way, the files were real.
"Want these?" she held out the takeout carton by way of a small apology. "Guaranteed only ethically-made organic soy long pig."
"I want them," Hafidha said. Todd folded the noodle box into one hand before she could make it across the room.
"Flesh," he remarked, and poked through the leftovers. "Pigflesh. Grave sin in many cultures."
"Duke," Hafidha said, "what're you doing in my office besides stealing my noodles?"
Daphne would not have thought it possible for Solomon Todd to appear yet more injured. "I am bringing you these reports from Down the Hall. As this is my workplace. And I, you know," he said loftily, "work."
"We too partake of this thing called work," Hafs said, and spun once on her chair. "Bring us your mountainous paperwork, your tired, your poor."
"Tired and poor come first," Todd pointed out.
"Get out," Hafidha said, and threw a Nerf dart at his head.
"Oh my feet," Duke called ironically over his shoulder as he fled. "My burning feet of fire."
"So. Wendigoes." Hafidha said. "And rakshasa, who live out in the woods and eat each other. And chupacabra, drinking raw sheep. People kicked out of society for going funny who lurk in the weird wild woods and eat whatever comes along with two legs and a heartbeat."
"Gammas," Worth said. Tried to focus on the reporting officer's handwriting from a case seventeen years in the freezer. Failed.
"Pre-information age gammas. I bet you."
"But those are all--"
"Mythology," Hafidha finished, and grinned. "Cultural explanations for observable phenomena. I'm just sayin'." She twirled again, two rotations this time. "Five sneakered feet off the coast of Vancouver."
Worth propped herself up, hair flopping in her eyes. "You don't really think this is ours--"
"Nah," Hafidha said. "Dad's got us on a goose chase. Looks all wrong." She squiggled her fingers in the air again, this time making patterns, kaleidoscopes of what the Anomaly must look like to her in red and purple and green. Worth glanced over at the wallpaper of flatscreens: all of them blank with powersave, off so long they'd gone right past the screensavers.
She doesn't even look at the computer anymore, Worth realized, and held down a little shudder.
No. Bad alpha. Betas were the good guys.
"Besides, not our jurisdiction," Hafidha finished, a little too bright. "Can't do much about it if it is."
The computer fans hummed. Not too loud. Powersave.
"Not ready to get back in the field yet?" Worth asked quiet.
"No," Hafidha admitted, and the cheer and sparkle were sucked right the hell out of her voice.
"Me neither," she said, both honest and bolstering, hand to hold and the flat bald truth. Only one case since that burning Texas farmhouse, clouding up the early summer sky with smoke and stink and bad, and if they didn't get another for two more months it'd be too soon.
As if the memory of smell was a summoning, Chaz Villette set a three-tapping knock on the office door.
"Platypus!" Hafidha said, arms wide open and that easy bright cheer turned right back on.
Chaz looked between the two of them. Cautious. Smelling something off; smelling smoke. "Hey," he said, tentative. Picked at that tatty beat-up cast in a way that made Worth want to slap his hand off it. "Mom sent me to help with the Washington State files."
Read your mind, she thought before thinking, and then: down, girl. For serious. Whatever the hell had got up her nose today, it wasn't something the Platypus needed laid on him in his first week back at the office. In his first week of normal life after...that.
And the curling-up quiet after, and the odd hours, and the reserve.
"Deliver us," Hafidha said, throwing her hands up in the air, and cleared a space for him amongst the files, the old cannibalized CPUs, the half-empty Chinese takeout and the knickknacks and pens.
Gammas were the bad guys. Betas were good.
It was dangerous to get caught up in your own mythology.