Birth of the Anti Mother”

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb

VIEW CONTENT WARNING

Elisha sat in his home office, feet up on his desk, skimming the text of a bill that was set to come up for a vote in the assembly in a day or two—annual budgetary stuff, nothing earth-shattering. Sometimes lately he thought this was what was really killing him—the mind-numbing day-to-day, the plugging-along-like-everything’s-normal when his nights were filled with illicit interrogations; threats to life, limb, and sanity; daemon-possessed kids clawing trenches in their own flesh; all of it part of a race against time to save his protégé’s family from a horrific fate—and the world as he knew it from falling prey to some primal devouring force he couldn’t hope to understand.

The Prefect looked up at a tentative knock on the open door. “Hey, pie,” he said, seeing his daughter in the doorway, and tossed the bill down on his desk, lowered his feet, leaned forward in his chair. “What’s up?”

Sometimes Elisha looked at Leshayva, really looked at her, and couldn’t believe how grown-up she was, out of nowhere. It seemed like just yesterday she’d followed him around everywhere like a doting puppy; scribbled the ghoulish crayon stick-figure drawings that, to this day, occupied places of honor in this very office; refused any and all attempts by DeShay and her professors to pry her off Elisha’s leg because she was too nervous to join her Academy peers onstage for their first parents’ night review. Lately, for the first time, there was something startlingly un-childlike about Shay—something in her expression, hard and wary, that made it unmistakable just how much she took after her mom.

She had that look on her face now, a sober knot in her brow that made her seem distant and guarded. She lingered in the doorway a second or two, then shuffled forward into the room, hands in pockets. “Can I talk to you?” She came to a halt in front of him, shifted on her feet.

“Anytime, pie. You know that.” Elisha dragged over the ottoman that matched the overstuffed chair by the window, patted the top of it.

With palpable reluctance, Shay sat.

“Everything okay?” Elisha settled back in his chair.

Shay leaned forward with her elbows on her knees, hands clasped in front of her—again reminding him of Devisha. Her eyes were studiously trained on the Berber rug. “I…saw something,” she began eventually, “the night of Grandpa’s party.”

“Saw something?” Elisha frowned. “What kind of something?”

Her eyes flicked up to him, and, for just a second, he saw his child again.

She’s afraid.

… Of me?

“You…said you were going to the bathroom.” Her eyes were on the rug again.

So much had happened since that night—so many memories gone missing. Elisha struggled to recollect what she was referring to.

“Right before you left,” she added.

Oh.

“Go on.” Elisha tried to sound as unworried as possible.

She looked him in the eyes again, evenly this time. “You know, don’t you? You know what I saw.”

Elisha gazed at her, now just trying for a neutral expression. “I’d…like to hear from you what you think you saw.”

She dropped her gaze, took a breath to speak, stopped short.

Finally, “Where’ve you been going all the time?” She raised troubled eyes to him. “I just…I need to know.”

Elisha indulged in a quiet sigh. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around much lately,” he said, still hoping this confrontation wasn’t what he feared it was.

“That’s—this isn’t about that.” Leshayva looked annoyed. “You’re busy. I get it. The Alliance needs you, blah, blah, blah. I know stuff’s been messed up lately. I know. Everybody knows. I just mean…that I…I know you’ve been going off alone, doing things you’re trying to hide from everyone. Putting on a disguise. Talking to people in mirrors. And you’ve been lying about it. Haven’t you?” She plumbed his gaze as if trying to find something—he didn’t know what.

Elisha thought fast. “Look.” He fixed her with a sober expression. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you the truth. It was too dangerous. And I need you to promise never, ever to tell anyone what I’m about to tell you. Scout’s honor, pie. Okay?”

She rolled her eyes at the scout’s honor bit. “Fine.”

“I’m doing some work for your mom. Enforcement stuff. Undercover. That’s why the glamor.”

“Oh.” Leshayva brightened a little. “Really? I mean—why you, though? Doesn’t she have tons of other people who can do that stuff?”

“Things are different since the attack. Your mom’s got all hands on deck.”

Leshayva stared off a moment, processing. “Does she have Grand Philosopher Nimri doing that too?”

Why would she ask that? “I’m…really not supposed to be talking about any of this.”

“But, I mean, he is a Martial Magus, after all, Philosopher Nimri—so it would make sense, right?”

“It would make sense,” agreed Elisha. “Why so interested in Philosopher Nimri?”

“Oh, he’s, um—you know. I have I guess kind of like a crush on him.” She stared at her shoes.

“Really?”

Shay nodded.

Elisha chuckled. “Well, whaddaya know. Is this your first crush who isn’t a pop star or a TV vampire?”

“Movie vampire,” said Leshayva. “And…Iunno. I guess so.”

Elisha grinned. “Well, Jules is little old for you right now. Otherwise, I enthusiastically approve.”

“Boys my age are idiots,” said Shay.

“That will be true for longer than you want to know.” Elisha felt himself relax. “Look, pie, I’m so, so sorry I had to lie to you. I hated it. I hated every second of it. It’s just that this stuff I’m doing for your mother is super, super top-secret. I’d get in big trouble, and a lot of really bad things could happen, if anyone were to find out. So I need you to promise, promise, promise me you’ll never tell anyone. Double-dog swear it. Capisce?”

Shay smiled mutely, nodded.

Elisha studied her. “Do you have anything you need to tell me?”

She shook her head, her bushy ponytail swinging side to side. With her dimples showing, she reminded him more of DeShay than Devisha. Even a little of himself.

“So we’re cool?”

“We’re cool,” confirmed Shay.

“Good.”

She eyed him a moment, inscrutably, then got up, shuffled toward the door.

“Tell Daddy I’ll be down for dinner in, like, twenty,” Elisha called after her.

“Okay.”

He gazed after her as she disappeared into the hall. “Fuuuuuuck,” he exhaled then, sagging in relief, and dragged the bill back onto his lap, scanned the rest of its pages without really seeing them. “Your twelve-year-old’s onto you, old man,” he muttered to himself. “You better level up your stealth game.”

•─────☾ ☽─────•

“Nimri,” Elisha greeted the young alchemist.

“Caliban.” Jules fell into step beside Elisha as the latter pocketed the keys to the Challenger and trudged off across the northwest parking lot of Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in Oak Lawn, toward the nearest entrance. The sun was low in the sky, orange rays jabbing like spears through gray clouds to the west. A summer breeze plucked the two men’s jackets, tossed Jules’s mane.

“We got a game plan here?” Elisha asked.

Jules shrugged. “We have no idea what we’re looking for, except that it would have happened just before ten P.M. on March 8th, 1990, and didn’t make the news. So, like we said—we need to try to find people who’ve been working here about twenty years or more, see if any of them remember or heard anything unusual about that night.”

Elisha waggled his invisible eyebrows. “Sounds fun. Like tryin’ to find Ronald McDonald at an ICP show. You wanna do the talking, or should I?”

Jules eyed him. “I’ll do it, I guess. Tell them I’m a journalism student or something, working on a school project. You can be my advisor.”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll try and look half-respectable.”

Jules led the way into the lobby and up to the reception desk. A harried-looking young woman in scrubs glanced up between phone calls. “Can I help you?”

“Um,” said Jules.

“Is one of you a patient? Are you visiting a patient?”

“I’m a journalism student.”

“Okay.” She glanced pointedly past Jules at the handful of people who’d already lined up behind him and Elisha, two of them in wheelchairs.

“For my school project,” Jules resumed awkwardly, “I’m investigating an event that took place on the night of—”

“Can I direct you to a certain area of the hospital?”

Jules shot a helpless glance at Elisha.

“May 8th, 1990, sweetheart,” Elisha cut in. “Ring a bell?”

She looked at him. “No.” The phone on her desk rang. She picked it up. “Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center. How can I help you?”

Elisha looked at Jules, jerked his head toward the hallway ahead of them. They started toward it together.

“Everyone here’s really busy,” observed Jules, as a pair of staffers in scrubs blew past them. He paused in front of a directory on the wall.

“What’re ya lookin’ for?” asked Elisha.

“I don’t know.” Jules scanned the listings, pivoted slowly, looking lost.

“Let’s just keep walkin’.”

“There are a lot of them, aren’t there?” Jules added, as a young man in scrubs passed them pushing an elderly man in a wheelchair.

“A lot of what?”

Jules lowered his voice. “Mundanes.”

Elisha chuckled. “Yep.”

“It’s funny to me that most of the time we magi live like they don’t exist. They outnumber us several hundred to one. If anything, the world belongs to them.”

“They don’t know shit about the mysteries.”

“Just because we consciously draw on the mysteries doesn’t mean they belong to us any more than they do the mundanes.”

“Yeah, sure. The mysteries are beyond human comprehension and control, yada yada. Just sayin’, at least we know they’re a thing and we can use ’em.”

“Are you so sure they’re exclusively our purview?” Jules glanced in passing at a room full of diagnostic machinery. “We’re awfully confident in our understanding. Most of us stopped asking questions centuries ago. One could make a very strong argument that mundanes have now surpassed us. They’re communicating by use of a device you can carry in your pocket; we’re still drawing sigils on mirrors.” He waggled his iPhone: “When we’re not making use of the very implements they’ve invented.”

“You’re preachin’ to the choir, kid.” Elisha gave the faintest smirk. “Tell it to the Lockwoods and the Greydales and the Mounces. Tell it to High Servant Karamat and Seer Oliphas. Hell, tell it to your own father.”

“I have. My father, anyway.”

“Start throwin’ around the term ‘Luddite,’ and you’ll sound just like a Noirite. Ever thought about switchin’ your colors from Arcanus to La Messe Noire?”

Jules scowled, shook his head. “Libertines.”

Elisha grinned.

Jules came to a sudden halt, his eyes unfocused.

“You all right there, kid?”

Jules raised his forefinger to his lips. His features slackened in concentration. “Shades.”

Elisha raised an eyebrow. “You can see shades…?”

“Not see them. Hear them. Sometimes. A little. If they’re loud.”

“Hey, that’s right—your old lady’s a necromancer, ain’t she?”

“Don’t call my mom an old lady.” Jules started walking again. “They’re coming from this direction.”

“Ya know, kid”—Elisha followed—“this is a hospital. Of course there’s echoes of dead people. They’re gonna be all fuckin’ over tha place.”

“These are different. Pissed off, maladapted. I’ve heard this kind of thing before—at the apostate ritual site I told you about.”

Elisha’s non-eyebrows shot up. “In that case, maybe you’re onto somethin’.”

Jules reached a busy cross-halls, once more slowed to a halt, eyes half-closed, head swiveling this way and that. Elisha grabbed his arm, yanked him out of the way of an oncoming gurney surrounded by medical staff.

“Lost ’em—fuck,” Jules muttered.

“Take your time.” Elisha steered the younger magus well out of the path of foot traffic. “If they’ve been here since 1990, they’re not goin’ anywhere anytime soon.”

Jules closed his eyes. “‘The poison was in the seed,’” he murmured, then opened his eyes again. “This way.”

He started off down one of the hallways. Elisha dogged his steps, deploying timely interventions whenever the half-entranced alchemist came too close to smacking head-on into any of the staff or patients who crowded the corridors.

After a few twists and turns, Jules finally slowed in front of a large pair of double doors with a plaque on the wall beside them that read, MATERNITY WARD.

“Here?” puzzled Elisha. “Not the first place I’d go to look for pissed-off shades.”

“Don’t you feel it?”

Elisha went still for a moment, took a deep breath; tried to absorb the energy of the space.

After a beat, a sensation like ice water trickled over the skin of his forearms. “I’ll be damned… Why here?” He frowned, opened his eyes.

Jules pushed his way through the swinging doors. Elisha followed.

The ward seemed relatively quiet, for the moment, at least. Jules cast a glance off down a hallway to his left, then walked up to the unmanned front desk.

A young man in scrubs appeared from the offices in the back. “Can I help you?”

“Have you, um… I’m a journalist. I mean, I’m a journalism student.”

While Jules bumbled his way through a Q-and-A session with the clerk, Elisha surveyed their surroundings. A pair of nurses strolled down the nearby hallway, laughing and chatting. In the waiting room across the way, frazzled-looking spouses and loved ones sat or paced or fiddled around on their smartphones. A grizzled custodian propped open the men’s room door with a grunt, plunked a WET FLOOR sign down on the threshold.

“I guess you could say I’m investigating claims of supernatural phenomena,” Jules was saying. “Specifically something strange my sources claim happened here in this ward on the night of March 8th, 1990.”

The custodian’s whiskered head swung around, his filmy blue eyes boring like lasers into Jules’s back.

Elisha continued to watch the man discreetly, fingered Buffy where she nestled in the shoulder holster in his jacket. Maybe we shouldn’t’ve waltzed in here and started blabbing about this loud enough for everyone and their dog to hear, kiddo. He glanced at Jules. But it’s too late now.

“I don’t know who’s even been working here long enough to—” the clerk was saying, when the phone cut him off. “Excuse me.”

Jules turned away from the desk looking undeterred. Glanced around for a moment, then started off down a hallway to the left. Elisha followed.

“Don’t look now, but we’re getting some attention,” Elisha muttered close to his ear.

“Oh yeah?” Jules swung his gaze around, snuck a split-second’s glance over his shoulder, then turned to Elisha. “You mean that maintenance guy?”

“Not subtle, is he?”

“You think he’s one of them?”

“He definitely knows somethin’. Where the hell’re we goin’, anyway?”

“The shades. They’re concentrated up ahead.” Jules paused in front of a stretch of vacant corridor. From somewhere down the hallway to their right, a bloodcurdling shriek split the air, startling them both. “Childbirth.” Jules made a pained face. “How the fuck do they do it. Is our new friend still back there? Maybe we should introduce ourselves before things get too awkward.”

Elisha glanced back, spied the wizened custodian in a doorway some distance behind them, gripping his mop in his knob-knuckled fist like a scepter. “Tall bastard,” muttered the Prefect, then raised his voice. “Somethin’ we can help you with, mister?” He touched Buffy’s grip beneath his jacket. Jules furtively grasped his left coat sleeve.

“You gentlemen with the FBI?” said the man, in a halting New York accent, as he began ambling toward them. “The CIA? The DHS?”

Elisha and Jules exchanged glances. “Who wants to know?” Elisha asked.

“Heard you out there askin’ about March 8th, 1990.” The custodian slowed to a stop a few feet in front of them.

“Do you know something, Clint?” asked Jules, apparently reading the name tag sewn onto the man’s coveralls. His hand moved away from his sleeve. Elisha left his gun safe in its holster.

Clint’s crepe-y cheeks split in a long-toothed grin. “I knew it.” He wagged a finger at Jules. “I knew it. MKUltra, wasn’t it? You boys part of the cover-up, or you here in search a’ the truth?”

“We want the truth,” said Jules. “Do you know something?”

“I know somethin’ happened in this ward that night. Somethin’ the Man don’t want you to know about.”

“Why do you say that?” said Jules.

“’Cuz every last doctor, nurse, and staffer workin’ the ward that night is either dead or in the nuthouse.”

Jules and Elisha once more exchanged glances.

“You on the job that night yourself, pal?” Elisha asked.

Clint nodded grimly. “Never forget. Long as I live.”

“What’d ya see?”

Clint started chuckling, went on chuckling to himself for several seconds. Jules and Elisha stood watching him.

Finally, the custodian rubbed one of his watery eyes. “Just how willin’ are you boys to suspend your disbelief?”

Jules raised an eyebrow. “You might be surprised what we’re willing to believe.”

Clint hiccuped out a few last chuckles, then sighed, rubbed the back of his neck, grinned with every one of his long teeth. “Goddamn reality turned upside down.”

An uncomfortable memory rose to mind, of an unseen force trying to rip Elisha from the face of the Earth and swallow him whole. “… How you mean, brother?”

Clint got a faraway look in his eyes, as if his mind had time-traveled back to that night. “Whole ward turned ice cold, outta nowhere. Shadows got deeper.”

“Deeper?” asked Jules.

“Thicker. Darker. Dunno. Hard to describe. And the air was all full a’ voices, whisperin’. Couldn’t hear a damn word they were sayin’. All I can tell ya is they sounded pretty goddamn unhappy. And you wanna hear the freakiest part?”

“Yeah?” said Elisha.

“Gravity.”

“What about it?”

“Stopped workin’.”

The two mages again swapped glances.

“You mean…?” said Jules to Clint.

“Shit floatin’ up off the nurses’ carts. Hair stickin’ straight off people’s heads.” Clint leaned closer, waggled his frizzy eyebrows. “Psy stuff, for my money. Telekinesis.”

“But the carts themselves, the people didn’t float?” said Jules. “So gravity didn’t break down altogether?”

Clint considered this, shrugged his face. “Guess not?”

“All this happened here in the maternity ward?” asked Elisha.

“I’ll show you boys exactly where it happened.”

Clint stalked off down the hall, mop bucket wheels shrieking in his wake. Jules and Elisha followed.

The maintenance man rounded a corner, came to a halt outside a room designated Delivery Room #23.

“Here, right outside this room?” said Jules.

Clint gripped his mop handle, nodded.

Elisha eyed Jules, saw that the younger mage’s face looked drawn. “That check out to you?” The Prefect was already pretty sure of the answer. His own skin was crawling. There was a ringing in his ears.

Jules gave a single nod.

He stepped forward, peered through the window in the door. “Unoccupied.”

“They don’t use that one no more,” said Clint, “unless the place is at capacity. Nobody works here now even knows what happened then. Guess they just deep down can feel that room’s got bad juju.”

Jules tested the door handle. “Locked.”

“I got you, brother.” Clint produced a large keyring.

“Thanks,” said Elisha, as the maintenance man unlocked the door, waved the two mages inside.

Jules took to pacing the room. Elisha entered, glanced around; took in what, to all appearances, was an ordinary delivery room, orderly and sterile. The hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stood on end.

“So was there shit goin’ on in here that night?” he asked Clint.

“Lady givin’ birth, nothin’ out of the ordinary there,” shrugged Clint. “Though I never in my life heard a woman scream like that.”

“Like what?”

“I mean, y’know. Women givin’ birth always sound like they’re bein’ murdered. But this poor gal—by the end she almost didn’t sound human anymore. Like somethin’ else was tryin’ ta come through.”

“You hear that, kid?” said Elisha to Jules.

Jules didn’t respond. He was standing motionless in the center of the room, his back to Elisha.

“Jules,” Elisha tried again.

He realized the alchemist’s whole body was shaking.

Elisha crossed to him, gripped his shoulder, turned him.

The sight of Jules’s face struck cold terror in his heart.

“‘No web without the Weaver,’” the boy whispered, his eyes bright with fear, a weird smile stretching his face. “‘All praise to the Mother of Abominations, who comes to devour her mate.’”

Elisha gripped his arm. “Okeydoke, kid. Let’s get you out of here.”

•─────☾ ☽─────•

Clint didn’t know who’d given birth in Room #23 in the wee hours of March 8th, 1990. But he remembered the OB-GYN who’d delivered the kid—now deceased, officially by way of suicide—as well as the nurses and OB tech who’d been present during delivery, all of whom the custodian claimed were either dead in similar circumstances or committed. Elisha had taken down their names.

Clint also remembered vividly the readout from his digital watch display at that moment when reality had seemed to pull apart at the joints. That minute, he recalled, had felt like it lasted for hours:

3:01 a.m.

Elisha glanced at Jules, who sat beside him in the Challenger’s passenger seat, staring into nothing. “You sure you’re okay, kid?”

“I’m fine,” said Jules.

Elisha shifted in his seat, sighed. “‘Weaver,’ eh. ‘Mother of Abominations.’ Whaddaya make of all that?”

“Felt like they were…” Jules’s brow puckered. “Mocking me.”

Elisha raised his non-eyebrows. “Mocking you?”

“‘Nullweaver,’” murmured Jules. “‘Nothing from nothing.’ Over and over. Just like when kids would call me ‘corpse-spawn’ in school.” He gave his head a little shake. “I mean…of course there’s no way it was directed at me personally. Just felt that way. But anyway—yeah. No idea what it means.”

Elisha grunted. “Seems to me we gotta figure out who squirted one out in that room that night.”

“Must be a record somewhere. Might be hard to track down without a name.”

“While you were out here catchin’ your breath Clint introduced me to a pal of his in records. Said the OB-GYN might’ve kept a ledger by date.”

“They hang onto records from that long ago?”

“Yeah, but they’re stored offsite with a contractor.”

“Clint’s friend willing to pull them for us?”

“This guy didn’t seem as down as Clint. Gave a whole speech about hippo laws or some mundane bureaucratic bullshit. I gathered he didn’t wanna risk his job. He did drop the name of the contractor, though.”

“Was it Secure Medical Records, by any chance?”

Elisha blinked at Jules. “How’d you guess?”

Jules tilted his head blandly, his eyes indicating something in the parking lot in front of them.

Elisha followed his gaze, spied a box truck with a spartan, all-caps logo on the side:

SECURE MEDICAL RECORDS INC.

The Prefect whistled. “Ain’t that just the stroke of luck. Guess our next step is to see if they got a facility nearby.”

Jules thumbed around on his phone. “I’m on it.”

•─────☾ ☽─────•

Nearly an hour later, Elisha parked the Challenger a short ways down the street from the Secure Medical Records warehouse in Naperville.

“You wait here.” Jules unbuckled his seatbelt.

“Uh, you wanna let me in on the plan, kid?”

The alchemist got out his wallet, flashed his Martial Magus glamor card. “Gonna tell them I’m from the hospital. See if they’ll pull that surgeon’s ledger for me.”

“A little risky, ain’t it? No offense, but you look like—”

“…I’d be lucky to pass for sixteen?” Jules gave Elisha a patently unamused look. “This is the most straightforward way to do this. Least risk of violating the Protocols. If you’ve got a better idea, I’m all ears.”

“I was just gonna take a crowbar to one a’ the fuckin’ windows.”

“Yep, after which I’m sure we’d have plenty of time to pick through records before mundane police responded to the call from the alarm company. This place has got a monitored security system, cameras, the works. Better to keep this appearing as above board as possible.”

“If you say so.” It probably was their best shot, Elisha reckoned. He just wasn’t the biggest fan of letting Jules go off by himself…especially after the incident at Lit Sister.

Elisha watched the alchemist disappear through the glass front doors, fidgeted a bit, sighed. Finally lowered his seatback and lay there, staring at the Challenger’s ceiling. Here was the other thing he didn’t like about letting Jules go in alone—it left Elisha himself idle, but still on alert, not fully able to relax. Caliban mode was always go mode: The ugly bastard kept himself busy, and Elisha liked that. Moments like this, of suspended animation, of vegetating, waiting for some unknown next move, left him with a little too much time to muck around in the crawlspaces of his head—those grungy, cobwebbed under-places he couldn’t seem to fully wall off anymore since he’d delved into Amelia’s disintegrating mind: cesspools where gruesome images swirled, unanchored by narrative, and which of them belonged to his memory and which to hers he could never be sure, and if you stared at the seams between them long enough you saw nothing but an empty maw that seemed to stretch its jaws wider and wider, till you were sure there was nothing outside it and never had been.

A buzzing from Elisha’s phone yanked him back to his body.

Get in here, read Jules’s text.

The Prefect was out of the car in a flash, bolting into the lobby of the warehouse, hand closing around Buffy’s grip inside his jacket.

He pulled up short at the scene that greeted him: an unconscious man in a guard uniform bound and gagged on the floor at his feet, while Jules sat calmly at the front desk computer, latex-gloved fingers chattering away at the keyboard.

“Christ, kid! What happened to ‘above board’?”

“Well”—Jules’s fingers went on tapping, his eyes still fixed to the monitor in front of him—“he took me at my word when I said I was from the hospital, but he said there’s this whole fucking process to access records, he has to have authorization from so-and-so…you get the idea.”

“So ya gassed ’im.”

“Just Morphean miasma. Same thing I used on the people at Lit Sister. He’ll be fine.”

“What’re ya doin’ now?”

“Deleting security footage. I hit that camera with a little lightning zap”—Elisha followed the direction of Jules’s pointer finger to a corner of the ceiling, glimpsed the singed and smoking piece of recording equipment—“but not before it taped Alec here”—a glance at the security guy’s name tag confirmed he was the Alec in question—“getting taken out by a bright purple cloud that issued out of my bare hand. So.” Jules glanced up matter-of-factly. “Can’t have that circulating, can we?”

“There any more cameras?”

“Inside, for sure. But what I’m doing right now is taking the whole system offline.”

“And the alarm system?”

“I don’t wanna mess with that. There’s passwords. I’m no hacker. Anything I try could easily trigger a 911 call. Should be fine, though, as long as we don’t go breaking in.”

Elisha eyed the door to the file room, with its number pad and key card access slot. “And how exactly do we get in there without breakin’ in?”

Jules dipped his fingers in a coat pocket, brandished Alec’s key card.

“You’re a real Gary Stu, kid, you know that? Not complainin’, by the way.”

“How the hell do you know what a Gary Stu is?”

Whoops. Stay in character, Weyland. “Ayyy, I know a thing or two, capisce? I do some surfin’ on the World Wide Web.”

Jules’s lips gave a twitch of amusement. “Okay.” His fingers danced here and there on the keyboard, pretty much the same way they moved when he used his tattoos. “Just searching the database here for our OB-GYN: Dominique Chua. March 8th, 1990.” A loud click as he hit enter, then silence while he watched the screen expectantly, and Elisha watched his face, equally expectant. “Got it—Aisle C, Column 8, Row 3. Let’s go, and make it quick, in case anyone offsite monitors that camera feed.”

The key card got them into the file room, no trouble.

A few minutes rifling through folders in file boxes on a tall metal shelf, and Jules had the yellowed ledger in hand.

“3:01 a.m., right?” His sober black eyes scanned the page.

Elisha grunted an affirmative.

“Let’s see. 12:04, 1:47…” Jules suddenly froze, his expression opaque.

After several seconds of silence, “You get a name, kid?” Elisha prompted.

Jules still didn’t answer. Seemed not to even hear.

“Yo, kid. Nimri.” Elisha snapped his fingers. “Wake up. You okay?”

The alchemist’s already-pale face had drained of all color. “Yep.”

Elisha frowned. “Well, then, let’s hear it. Who was it popped out a puppy in that delivery room at 3:01 a.m.?”

Jules seemed to avoid Elisha’s gaze as he snapped a pic of the page with his phone camera, then stuffed it back in the file.

“Emily Susskind-Frankel,” he pronounced at last, hoarsely. He shoved the box back in its nook, descended the ladder, and started for the door.

NEXT CHAPTER: CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN
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