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Guest Writer

Part 14: Just something someone said
by Jess Gulbranson

In the grand scheme of the universe, Mel is little more than a speck. But in our universe, well, he's the only inter-dimensional hero we've got. So, although he’s a little rough around the edges, largely unpredictable, maybe even a trifle rude – after 13 previous out-of-this-world chapters, you just had to learn to love him. Didn’t you? Nevertheless, here’s Part 14 ...

he next morning Mel had a few surprises. First was that he had slept through breakfast.
Sometime early, Anne had gone out for bagels and coffee.

Mel stretched as he rose from the sofa. Anne was in the corner of the living room at her computer, chatting on the phone. She glanced at Mel, waved, and pointed to the kitchen.

Everything he owned was in a new duffel sitting by the sofa. He pulled out jeans and socks and ran a hand through his yellow hair, then stepped into the kitchen. Breakfast was a paper coffee cup next to an open bag. Anne had taken hers already.

Inside the bag were two toasted bagels, butter on one side and cream cheese on the other. That was his favorite. How the hell had she known that?

Mystery aside, Mel wolfed down his prize and made short work of the lukewarm coffee as well. He chucked the bag and cup into the garbage and plopped into a beanbag chair next to Anne.

She was perched on one of those awkward-looking ergonomic knee chairs, and talking on the phone in what sounded like Arabic. The computer screen was a phenomenal mess of hieroglyphs, diagrams and seemingly random groupings of letters. After a few minutes Mel gave up studying the screen and started studying her.

She was beautiful, so beautiful it made his teeth ache. Her red hair positively shimmered against a simple black T-shirt. Being around her gave him the kind of vertigo you feel in your hamstrings. He knew what that feeling was, but didn't trust himself to imagine what it meant.

Anne hung up the phone, then turned to Mel and smiled. "Good morning."

"Hey," was the best he could muster.

"The legwork for our little vacation is turning out to be more extensive. We should go downtown and hit the library. There's also someone I'd like you to meet."

"And who's that? Your parents?" Mel wetted a finger and smoothed his eyebrows with a wink.

"No, Dr. Maniacus."

"Dr. Maniacal? And I thought I wasn't going to have any fun in this burg." Anne reached out and smacked him on the arm.

"Dr. Maniacus is something of a legend," she said. "He's one of the most brilliant scientific minds around. He has an old warehouse in the industrial district, and it's full of the most wonderful junk. Everything from 19th-century farm equipment to cutting-edge cybernetics. He makes it available to university students, grade-school kids with science-fair projects, stuff like that."

"Sounds like a real nice guy."

"He is. And he is going to help us with our little science-fair project. After that we ..."

Anne was cut off by the ringing phone. She answered it, listened intently, and suddenly it was like someone had turned her off. Her eyes went dead and her posture drooped. Mel jumped when she spoke, slurred words seeming to dribble from her mouth. "It's for you."

Mel took the phone and uttered the politest thing he could think of.

"Who the fuck is this?"

The voice on the other end was soothingly generic, like those people from Gary, Ind., that the phone company used for prerecorded messages.

"It's your old friend Vlad. How are things in the City of Roses?"

"I'm not your friend, Blacula. What do you want?"

Vlad the Impaler paused on the other end of the line. Mel felt intense displeasure from the phone's silence, and blushed inadvertently.

"Mel, I hope your friend did not lose control of her bladder. It's a most unfortunate side effect."

Vlad made a fake-sounding sigh before he continued. "I have some advice. Dr. Maniacus is a reverse engineer. Do not go on any journeys with him. Avoid the Shanghai Tunnels."

Mel didn't understand what the vampire lord was saying to him. He felt an unnatural compulsion to be quiet, but fought it.

"Who is Jeuss Rucker?"

Vlad answered quickly, his unaccented voice becoming harsh and clipped. "When you see me parlay with the Black Pope, then I will explain Jeuss Rucker. When you see Doubting Thomas interface with the Machine Mind, then I will explain Jeuss Rucker. Until then ..."

Mel cringed as Dracula himself roared into the phone: "Dr. Maniacus is a reverse engineer. Do not go on any journeys with him. Avoid the Shanghai Tunnels!"

Mel felt normal again only when the receiver clicked and that unholy voice was replaced with a dial tone.

Anne came alive again and finished her sentence like someone had flipped the proverbial switch.

" ... can go get a Reuben at this great deli. Sound good?"

"Anne," said Mel, "do you know who the Black Pope is?"

She frowned in concentration.

"Soul singer Isaac Hayes? No, that was Black Moses."

Mel thought his laugh sounded a bit forced.

"Seriously," she continued, appreciative, "the Black Pope is the head honcho of the Jesuits. It's nicknamed that because it's supposed to be more powerful than the real pope. Though most lore says that even Blackie is just a front for some other shadowy figure. Any reason?"

"Just something someone said." Mel looked troubled for a moment, and Anne leaned into him, clasping his hand. "Anne, let's go see this Dr. Maniacal and his Reuben.

"But before that," said Mel, devilish grin spreading across his face, "Maybe you can show me where the Shanghai Tunnels are."

Find out more about Mel in our archives.

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