Tanner Ellis was drawn to the pulsing orb, beckoning with its seeming fingers of fire. The little device tucked in his pocket paled in comparison.
Then the rotund scientist laughed. "Save the world with an orb? I can't believe he fell for that."
She raised her hand as if to wipe away tears, but her goggles got in the way. "I would be happy to just save what little progress we've made.
"Whose idea was it to set up in a mine tunnel under a city being swallowed by rain?" she continued. "And who is this gullible young man, Ellis?"
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"This is my son. Seems the council has a target on his back." Tanner's father clapped him on the shoulder with pride.
She glared at his dad from behind her goggles. "For the record, boy, your father's orgone generator here is one of our less-successful endeavors. We have many experiments and re-creations of old tech in this room, including plain, ordinary air purifiers. We started with Tesla, and went from there."
"You are a bit of a spoilsport, Mouse."
"And you're a bit mad, Ellis, but I don't hold it against you."
His father grinned; his teeth shining like large pearls in the orb's strange light.
A console flashed beside Mouse. She peered at a wavering needle and adjusted a knob. "Damn this unstable power!"
Tanner pivoted; taking in the workbenches and shelf-lined walls, all full of alien objects that he had no words to describe.
"It's not as fancy as it seems, kid," Mouse said. "We're still years away from anything impressive. Not with the Village camped on the old University, guarding whatever they haven't already destroyed. I would give up a real beef dinner for one of those old data devices they confiscated!"
"Shouldn't you be packing, Mouse?"
"Shouldn't you, Ellis?"
"This is more important than packing."
"So is this." She tweaked the dial again.
"I need a favor."
"Of course you do."
"Just get him settled, Mouse. Tanner, stay here. I know someone who can get you out of here."
His father vanished out the door.
"I don't want to go anywhere!" Tanner's shout echoed off the walls. His father was gone, again.
Tanner ran to the door and tore off his goggles. There was no sign of his dad in the hallway.
Mouse followed, removing her goggles. Her black bangs flapped down like raven wings. Tanner's eyes bulged as he recognized what she was.
"You're a Tribe savage!"
Mouse's eyes flashed. "I am Tribe, but who are the savages? My people didn't riot or kill neighbors for food when the old world ended."
She snatched the goggles out of Tanner's uncertain hands. "My people listened to our leaders. We gathered and took in every refugee, even those from your people's fallen Nation. We grew stronger, not because we made them slaves, but because we made them family."
"But ... aren't you afraid to be here? The council doesn't like Tribe crossing the border, except on market days. They could send you to the work farms."
"Farms? Bah! Every time you folks stub your toe you look over your shoulder. I am not afraid of your council. Let them try to make me dig up their potatoes." Mouse stomped away.
Tanner hurried after her, awestruck. He had never met someone who wasn't afraid, except maybe his mother.
The floor sloped upward and became less muddy. Tanner was winded again when Mouse opened another door. The next room was small, with a tidy cot and a table in a corner. Every surface was littered with devices, or pieces of devices - it was hard to tell.
"Wait here. I have inventions to save. Damn rain."
The door clanged shut, and it struck Tanner that they were underground. People had abandoned the city to live on Sehome Hill when streets and buildings started sinking into the bay.
The city was drowning; the evidence dripped and dribbled all around him. Little rivers of rainwater carved into the wall supporting the ceiling. He sat gingerly on the cot, as if a wrong move might bring it all down.
Tanner waited. His dad would be back, but only to send him away, Tanner realized; away from his father, his home, his mother. Probably north, to Tribe lands.
He shivered. People told scary stories about Tribe savages. Just stories, Tanner reassured himself.
He took the device, which had started it all, from his pocket and pressed the button. As he distracted himself with the images on the screen, Tanner noticed a small flashing light beside the pictures. Then he heard footsteps outside. Many footsteps.
The door clicked open. Gaffer, the old stranger, sneered at him from the doorway. Behind him stood the bully, Jackson, plus Councilman Jessup and three other council members.
Gaffer wasn't hunched and feeble anymore; he walked tall, like a councilman. A black cube in his hand beeped rapidly, echoing the flashing light on Tanner's device.
"Infected, just like your father," Gaffer declared. "I warned you, boy. But thank you for leading us to him."