Nectra hung from her perch, a staff of wood and metal stretched between two rocks in her chambers. She tinkered with the device, connecting the custom-designed circuitry to the detector. The indoor garden had been intended for a peaceful, relaxing, and meditative experience, but she’d found that it helped more with the technological side of her work. The small workspace that she’d stationed between the two pillar-like stones allowed her to communicate with clientele and fabricate special equipment while stretching. In less well lit rooms she might have passed for a human (if you ignored the hooks at her ankles that allowed her to hang upside down), but her pale blue skin was apparent to her audience as she worked.
“Are you almost done?” he asked.
“Patience, Mr. Mayfair,” she said. “It’s almost there…”
“You could have called me right after you’d finished.”
“And kept you from seeing my moment of triumph?” she said. “That wouldn’t do at all, Mr. Mayfair. Thanks again for bringing me in on this. It’s a huge opportunity, not to mention a relief to be home again.”
“Bristlecorp is impatient,” said the lawyer on the other side of the view screen. “As eager as we are to let the Desperate Measures Agency continue handling this at its own rate, Bristlecorp doesn’t want to wait any longer than it needs to. As such, we will turn to our other… subsidiaries.”
Nectra’s head snapped in the direction of the monitor and Mayfair winced at the sight. Her face seemed human enough from the side, but the nose, mouth, and eyes were all proportioned just a little incorrectly. The eyes in particular were wide, and meeting their gaze was intimidating.
“I’m not a subsidiary, Mr. Mayfair. I’m a person.”
“A person with skills we need. Do you truly believe that you can find him?”
“Absolutely,” she said. “As long as I’ve got… this!”
She held the device up to the camera while flipping its switch with one of her strangely jointed thumbs.
“Yes, exactly,” said Carlton Mayfair. “Now…”
“Wait!” she said. “Wait, it didn’t work. Don’t say anything. I think it’s… the battery casing wire’s not done, hang on.”
Nectra grabbed a tool from the bench beneath her and started mending the wiring.
“I understand that…”
“Nothing!” said Nectra. “Don’t say anything. I blew that, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I jumped the gun, didn’t double check everything.”
“And then you give the perfect set up line. ‘Do you truly believe that you can find him?’ Then I just saw myself holding it up and it crackling to life, so I forgot to finish…”
“It’s really fine.”
“There,” she said. She put down the tool. “Done.”
“Good,” he said. “Now, remember…”
“Say it again.”
“Ask me again.”
Mayfair stared into Nectra’s eyes. They must have taken up a fourth of her face. If she’d been a cartoon character it would have been adorable, but as it was…
“Can you truly locate him?”
“Of course I can… with this!”
She held up the device and flicked its switch with her thumb. After a moment, she struck the device against the pillar to her left and it glowed with a green light, issuing a faint ping every few seconds.
“Thanks again, by the way,” she said. “For years, they said that it wasn’t possible to build a miniaturized Virellium Force Energy Detector. It’s an understandable thought, of course. With the iota of Virellium needed to power such devices, they’d normally only be able to detect themselves. As you know, I’ve overcome the problem by…”
“I don’t need to be told,” he said. “As YOU know, you’ve already told me. We understand there’s a bit of a risk letting you go like this, but with your expertise in all things Virellium we’re hoping that you’ll be able to find Zack Gamma if his former coworkers cannot.”
“Oh, I almost hope they do,” she said. She flipped down from her perch and the wings at her back fluttered just enough to maintain her balance as she grabbed the staff on the short drop to the floor.
“If they do, you won’t prove your theory,” said Mayfair. “You also won’t have our assistance in releasing you from prison.”
“I know,” she said, glumly twirling her staff. “But there’s some romance there. Murdered by your own company for an unknown crime. It’s a beautiful way to die.”
“I’m glad you see it that way,” said Mayfair. “I don’t personally care one way or the other if he dies, but Bristlecorp has its standards and there’s just no talking to some people.”
“Are you sure you can’t tell me some of what’s happening behind the scenes there, Mr. Mayfair?”
Nectra leaned forward and smiled at the camera, showing the sharp teeth that contributed to her species’ nickname. The Bat People, or Vampire Bat People as some called them, hadn’t been referred to as such in polite society for decades, but it was easy for Mayfair to see where the name had started for the Shangmere. He returned Nectra’s stare as forcefully as he could until she finally turned away, looking at the screen on her new gadget.
“Message received,” she said.
“I’ve never broken a non-disclosure agreement in my life, Nectra,” he said. “I’m not going to start with Bristlecorp.”
“Probably smart,” she said. She stared at the screen, growing less lively and more contemplative.
“If I had to guess, I’d say that you weren’t nearly as crazy as people say.”
“I’m not,” she said. “I’m really not. You know I’m not.”
“I know,” he said. “And once you prove that your Virellium Force Energy Detector works… say, by locating someone who’s been in contact with it… such as Zack Gamma… then we’ll have hard evidence we can use to reopen your case. Good luck out there, Nectra. It’s been almost a week since Gamma disappeared, and someone like him won’t stay contained to a single planet for long.”