1/Dr Tukiko Troy
Safely back in Hope, Tukiko was checked into the clinic, and nurse Maisie checked her injuries.
That done, well, actually while it was being done, Tukiko went over the day's reports and patient updates.
In her notebook,
she made neat little notes about Mrs So and so's blood tests and Mr What's his name's ripening cist and little Jimmy's broken wrist and that she needed to have a word with his mum about his diet.
Hyle watched from the door, and she and Maisie exchanged glances.
"Tai and Ichiro will be here in a few minutes."
Another silent exchange between the two women whose faces weren't a swollen, bruised mess. Hyle tried again.
"I should go. There's still Aunt Lucy to be dealt with. But I'll stay until they come, longer if you like. I'm sure you'll want to talk about..."
"No. I'm fine. You go Mom." Tuki raised a discoloured face and managed a professional smile. "I've got things to do, and Tai will be home soon.
Itchy will need feeding, God knows what they've been putting into him while I've been away. Tai will be famished too I bet." She made another note.
Hyle didn't like this. She knew what was happening. Tuki was displaying behaviour all too familiar to her. But the number of voices crackling in her ear was growing.
Ytte and the boys were getting ready. She needed to be part of this.
"Tuki? I'll be back as soon as I can, okay?"
"Sure, Mom. Come round later, not too late though. Itchy will love to see you before I put him down."
Hyle looked at Maisie again, and the nurse gave her a reassuring nod. She'd keep an eye on Tukiko.
Hyle left reluctantly but determined to put an end to one of New Flagstaff's sicknesses once and for all.
Maisie started to clean up, all the while casting furtive glances at her boss. She hoped Laughing Boy would be here soon.
2/ Miss Brown
The third cloning was a nightmare of searing stomach cramps, uncontrollable shaking and the comings and goings of hazy consciousness.
There were faces amongst it all, none of them recognisable, just unfocused blobs of various hues. And voices too, but horribly distorted by her misfiring brain. No words just voices.
She was moving. Well, no. She was being moved. Carried at first and then floating down a brightly lit corridor of muffled noise and clinical odours. Horrible ceiling tiles.
How do ceiling tiles get so stained? She couldn't figure it out. Then she didn't have to because everything dissolved into peaceful blackness.
She woke up in pain. Nothing excruciating, just everywhere. Then there was that nauseating sensation of falling as her brain fought to make sense of the messages from her eyes.
Like an out of sync movie, the frames of reality slowed until the here and now finally juddered into view.
This was not a hospital room, even though this was definitely a hospital bed, those definitely were tubes and wires coming from her body, and that definitely was the unmistakable beep,
beep of a machine monitoring her vital signs.
But this was absolutely not a hospital room. Beautiful carved wooden panels and thickly embroidered tapestries do not adorn budget-conscious medical facilities.
Overhead, rich red reams of velvet radiating out from a central chandelier only partially succeeded in hiding the domed stone ceiling of no hospital ever built.
But one thing more than anything reassured her that she was now in the very bosom of safety.
On the wall opposite the bottom of her hospital bed hung a long banner of blood-red silk emblazoned in black with the stylised mythical creature adopted by the dedicated
and fanatical organisation known as Valkyrie.
A face swam into view above her. A saturnine face with a manicured pointed beard. A familiar face which smiled down at her.
"Beatrice. So nice to have you back."
3/ Aunt Lucy
Lucy sat in a wafflehouse in Banker's Hole. The irony was not lost on her.
But it was Miss Bitch Brown she was quietly cursing into her breakfast. Everything in Lucy's world was going just dandy until she had showed up spewing her guts all over her place.
Lucy had to forcefully stop grinding her teeth, the last thing she needed now was to break her damn dentures.
Even so and despite the bubbling hatred for Brown, it was still the mayor of damned Hope Springs that had done for her in the end.
In the kitchen of Lucy's mind, Hyle Troy was moved from the back burner to the front hob.
Of course, the muckity mucks at Banker's Hole had taken Lucy in, given her a place... well, a room and tried not to show the disdain behind their smiles.
Lucy had rank enough so that they had to be very discreet about any snide remarks, but she could see it in their eyes, and it rankled. But, a single room would do for now.
Lucy, like all good traveller folk, had a grubstake put by for the kind of eventuality that had just befallen her, and she knew just how she was going to invest it.
On the circuitous route Lucy had taken to Banker's Hole she had stopped at a little roadside bar-come-motel.
The epitome of a Mom and Pop operation but with one important ingredient, they had two lovely young daughters... and they were looking to hire a cook.
Lucy wiped the runny egg off her chin and managed a thin smile. Cookie time.
4/ Joe Spivey
Joe pushed the front door closed and watched his family... Was he including Silja in that? Fuck it. Why not? ...
And watched his family disappear back into the welcoming embrace of familiar surroundings.
Silja and Kirsten chatting back and forth like a pair of BFFs, while Annie unknowingly added to a trail of socks and soft toys spilling from her unsecured little backpack.
He leaned back against the door, his door, his first and last defence against the hungry wilderness. But he no longer felt as safe as he did two days ago, and it was probably all his fault.
Not because he had become complacent because Miss Brown was out of sight and so out of mind, she was seldom out of his thoughts one way or another.
But yes, he supposed that a degree of complacency had crept in over the years. He should have been down to South Burb more often. He should have checked on the staff he had hired more often.
And he certainly should have checked on the commitment of South Burb's hippy-dippy council to recognise their role in Brown's existence.
It was his fault because he hadn't taken the tough decision. He couldn't end Miss Brown without also ending all possibility of fetching Baka back.
He had people working on it, had done for even more years than he had had Brown incarcerated, but they all told him the same thing.
Yes, they were pretty confident they could tweak the Lifenet technology to remove the cuckoo personality.
But to do that, they first of all had to be able to identify and lock down enough of the original personality, and that was the problem.
Brown had Baka buried so damned deep in their shared subconscious that, so far, only the barest traces could be found. And none of the eggheads yet had an answer to that.
The other three women in Joe's life disappeared into the kitchen, the de facto heart of their home. Joe let out a sigh and closed his eyes. Something had to be done.
The hardest decision had to be made before he lost one, or even all, of them.
5/ Hyle Troy
05.27. Hyle leaned against the back wall of the shower and closed her eyes, letting the hot water sluice away the aches and the grime she felt.
Tuki was home safe. Diamond Lil's was out of business. Mission accomplished?
No. Her victories were hollow shells. She had accomplished her aim, but now what? Both Brown and Slater had escaped, and one of the girls she intended to 'rescue' had died. And that hurt.
Add to that, Hyle now had an understanding of her foes, she had seen inside their heads, it was not a question of if Brown and Slater would be back, more a question of when
Fifteen minutes later, Hyle lay on her back counting the cracks in the ceiling above her bed unable to sleep. Things needed to be done.
She needed to visit Tuki. Then the hostel, now busy dealing with Lucy's girls needed organising. There was so much for Hyle to do, So much she had to organise.
But that was the point, wasn't it? In the ceiling above her? The cracks radiated out from the centre.
Hyle smiled, she understood the irony. Make an impact, and the effect spreads out into everything else. Faktisk.
She considered the day she arrived in Hope. Traumatised, pregnant, with nothing except the clothes on her back.
Now she was mayor of a town with a hospital, school and a growing social welfare system.
She considered Tukiko, her beloved daughter. How she found her stealing scraps of food from the trash in back of The Waffelhus.
Now she was a doctor, running Hope's hospital, as well as being the mother to Hyle's grandson.
The Troy Family, Hope Springs. The future. These were the things that mattered, and she, Hyle Troy, would strive to protect them or die in the attempt.
Hyle would meet any threat to her vision head-on.
Any threat to her daughter or family even more so.
06.08. Hyle dressed herself for the day ahead. It would be as long and as tiring as the last three. But it was going to count.
With Ichiro asleep in the papoose strapped to Tai's chest, and both hands lugging two big bags of what a baby needs when out and about, Taiyoko moved towards where Bob stood in the doorway.
Bob didn't move, and Tai came to a halt in front of the enigmatic but quietly menacing Lightbearer. The man seemed to be searching for something in Tai's eyes.
Slowly, Tai's ever-present smile morphed into a tight-lipped line of resigned determination. He took a breath and held it, then nodded just once.
Bob paused for just a heartbeat then stepped aside.