RCM Fanfic - Agents of ARACHNOS, Ep. 7
Episode 7 - Spread Your Wings and Fly

It's so bizarre, I'm not scared of snakes or spiders. But I'm scared of butterflies. There is something eerie about them. Something weird!
-Nicole Kidman

*****

Baroness watched the taillights glow red in the mist as Baron’s SUV disappeared into the rainy Cleveland morning. She stood there a moment, staring until the green blob was completely out of sight, then grabbed her suitcases and blew through the airport doors in a huff. She was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she was almost to the baggage check-in before she realized Varyar was yelling across the concourse for her.

“Sorry,†she said as he and Hax caught up. “I didn’t realize you were behind me.â€

“No worries,†Varyar replied, catching his breath. “We saw you outside, but I wasn’t expecting you to walk so fast. Where’d Baron go?â€

“He’s not coming.†Baroness spat the words out a bit more harshly than intended, then checked herself before continuing. “I mean, he is, but not with us. Work issues again, so he won’t be able to fly down until Friday morning.†She tried to ignore Hax’s raised eyebrow as she continued toward the check-in area.

“Well, better late than never, I guess. I mean, from your itinerary it looked like the first thing he really needed to be there for is the soiree Friday night…†Varyar trailed off. “But that’s not the point, is it?â€

“Nope.â€

“Are you alright?â€

Baroness took a deep breath as they entered the maze of crowd-control ropes that created the check-in line. She forced a small smile and looked back at her friend. “Of course. Nothing a hot banana muffin can’t fix. There’s a bakery down in the other terminal that makes them with fresh bananas every morning.â€

At that, Hax made a noise that sounded like a meep crossed with a hiccup. The other two turned and looked at him strangely. “Sorry,†he said, thinking quickly, “it’s just, well, we are running a tad short on time…â€

“Yes, and it is at the complete other side of the airport,†Baroness frowned and nodded. “You’re right. I’ll grab something closer after we get through the security checkpoints.â€

Hax gave an inward sigh of relief while Baroness took her suitcases to the counter for check-in. He hadn’t yet decided how much of the morning’s discoveries she needed to know at this point. On one hand, it would be helpful to have another set of eyes watching for unusual activity as the convention got underway. On the other, this was the biggest event the team had put on yet. It might be better to get an assessment of what they were facing in Dallas first before divulging anything that could cause unnecessary concern.

The trio made it through security without incident, and Baroness went off to purchase some Cokes before boarding. Varyar went to have a last cigarette pre-flight and asked Hax to join him out on the smoking deck. He lit up, then nodded at the window in Baroness’s direction. “What do you think?â€

“Well…†Hax pondered a moment. He knew her statement a few nights prior about not sleeping well hadn’t entirely been a ruse. “The IRC logs show she’s been up into the wee hours for most of the past week, and I have noticed her trying to hide several yawns since we’ve arrived at the airport. Add that to Baron’s erratic behaviour of late, and I can understand her being a bit disagreeable.â€

“Indeed.â€

“Do you think we might convince her to take a day off? From what I’ve gathered, Highlander seems to have most everything under control. Didn’t Bio mention something last evening about the hotel having a spa?â€

“Oh, that’s adorable.†Varyar smiled, not even attempting to hold back his sarcasm. “Remind me to introduce you to the Baroness when she comes back. I think you’ll like her. She’s a math person, like you. Slightly on the crazy side, but she’s loyal to her team and tends to show her gratitude with a variety of homemade baked goods. Also, her brain never shuts off and she’s been known on occasion to mock workaholics for not being busy enough. I’m pretty sure the only way you’d get her into a spa is through trickery and then welding the doors shut.â€

Baroness approached and opened the door before Hax had a chance to respond. “We’d better get going if we’re going to commandeer the emergency row,†she said to Varyar.

“Oh, shit, you’re right.†Varyar stamped out his cigarette and grabbed the door. “Let’s go.â€

“Wait, what?†Hax’s confusion was evident as his friends started briskly walking toward the gate. “Why is it so important that we get the emergency row?â€
Both Varyar and Baroness came to a dead stop and turned to stare at him. “Are you KIDDING?†they cried in unison before looking at each other in horror.

“Why does he not want the emergency row?†Varyar whispered.

“I dunno,†Baroness whispered back as she shot a glance over at Hax. “I mean, he’s never traveled with us before, maybe in Britain it’s different?â€

“Erm…â€

“Wait, I got this.†Varyar cleared his throat. “Hax, I want you to take a sec and look around the terminal. What do you see?â€

On one side of the waiting area, a bleach-blonde coed in platform stilettos was chattering loudly on her phone while simultaneously trying not to fall off her shoes. On the other side, a businessman in a crumpled suit was licking his fingers, completely oblivious to the fact he’d just dribbled chunks of his breakfast sandwich all over his shirt. Another man was using the mirrored glass of the security station to pick his teeth. At the concierge desk, an elderly woman was repeatedly asking which gate her flight was departing from, then arguing with the concierge when he told her where her gate was located. All around them, zombified hordes of travelers shuffled listlessly up and down the concourse.

“Now,†Varyar continued once Hax had had a look, “imagine if you will that there is an emergency of some kind on the plane, and these assholes are the ones in the emergency row. Do you really want to entrust them with whether you live or die?â€

“Plus, you get extra leg room, and the people in the row just in front of you can’t recline,†Baroness added.

Hax blinked once, then blew past them on his way to the gate. “No sense in dallying, then. Come along…â€

*****
As he pulled away from the airport and back onto the freeway, Baron’s mood was as dark as the clouds shrouding the city. He was tired â€" beyond tired â€" and he rued the day the Messenger had first entered GamerShop and put him on this quest. The more arachnid attacks he foiled, the more that seemed to pop up to take their place, and each one was increasingly difficult to fend off. He felt like they were connected somehow, but in what way? Who would be training spiders for these increasingly elaborate attacks? Was there some mad scientist lurking about the greater Cleveland metropolitan area, and if so, how had he not already been invited over for an eclectic dinner party? What were the spiders’ overarching goals?

He understood why Baroness was angry, and as much as he hated not being there with her on the flight to Dallas, what was worse was not being able to truthfully explain why. One of the main reasons for one to be married was to have someone with whom to share life’s joys and trials, and it killed him to have to hide this from her. But what else could he do? Rivalcastia was still on edge over their confrontation with Da Bark Lurd; they weren’t sure if he’d truly been vanquished or simply disappeared into the ether to fight another day. Baron knew she hadn’t been sleeping well, and adding the additional concerns about giant spiders attacking Cleveland would either send her over the edge or cause her to have him committed.

So it was with more than a little irritation on the way to the airport that Baron felt the buzz of his cell phone going off in his pocket. And again a few minutes later. And yet again a few minutes after that. It could only mean the Messenger had another job for him, and he wasn’t in the mood to deal with it. What he needed, Baron decided, was a cold beer, followed by a nap, and after that he would set forth to tackle whatever work things he needed to tie up before he could join his friends and the Baroness at RivalCon. Then, and only then, he might consider finding out what the Messenger wanted.

The phone buzzed again, and as he sped down the highway, Baron powered it off and tossed it onto the passenger seat.

*****
On the plane, Baroness had slouched back in her seat and was staring blankly toward the ceiling. A tiny spider had worked its way out of the crack for the overhead luggage compartment shortly after takeoff, and she watched absentmindedly as it slowly moved over to the window and started building its web. It reminded her of Baron, which reminded her of everything else that had gone on over the past few months, and suddenly she felt overwhelmingly exhausted. To her left, Varyar was already snoozing in his seat, and Baroness felt a pang of jealousy; she never could get comfortable enough to fall asleep in a moving vehicle of any kind. Even the transatlantic redeye flight to England when she was in college was a seven-hour lesson in futility for the British Airways attendants trying every method at their disposal to coax her to the land of nod.

On her right, Hax was working through some code on his laptop and surreptitiously keeping an eye on the Baroness. Like the others, she’d slipped her headphones on as soon as the safety brief was over, but Hax got the feeling she wasn’t listening to anything so much as dissuading engagement with the flight attendants while her mind was elsewhere. Hax was never very good with small talk, so although he wanted to be of some comfort to his friend, he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He must have been fidgeting a bit without realising, because suddenly Baroness broke her gaze away from the grey world outside and firmly said, “Hax, I may have to hurt you if you don’t stop tapping that armrest.â€

He froze. “Sorry.â€

“No,†Baroness sighed and rolled her head over the back of her seat. “I’m the one who should be sorry. You haven’t done anything this morning except put up with my crankiness.â€

“Another late night, then?â€

She stared up at the ceiling and nodded. “He was talking in his sleep again last night. He’s been having these nightmares for weeks. I wake up from his thrashing around, and I know he’s dreaming about spiders because sometimes he’ll talk about them. I think that might be where his daytime paranoia has been coming from.â€

Hax pondered this against the events of his own morning, wondering if perhaps Baron’s arachnophobia wasn’t misplaced after all.

Baroness sighed. “Let’s talk about something more pleasant. This is the biggest event we’ve pulled off yet, and we may as well go into it in a good mood.â€

“Well…†he thought for a moment. “Oh! What about that book we were talking about the other night, the one on elementary number theory?â€

“Rosen’s? I do have one of his books, but it wasn’t that one. I have his Discrete Mathematics and Its Applications.â€

“Oh, that’s another good one. My favourite part was…â€

Baroness was momentarily distracted as one of their fellow passengers walked back the aisle. There was something oddly familiar about him, something she couldn’t quite place, and the strange, puzzled look he gave in their direction made her shiver.

“…of course, I’d focused more on the theory of computation at the time, however it was the section where he discusses combinatorics that prompted the idea for the article on choosing one’s passcodes.†Hax grinned to himself, then paused. “Are you alright? You look pale.â€

“Hmm? Oh, yes,†Baroness said quickly. “Sorry. The man who just walked by looked familiar, and I couldn’t remember where I’d seen him before.â€

Hax turned, but just missed the blond-haired man ducking back to the restrooms.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the just-closed door, Parker Bennett popped open the smoke sensors in the lavatory to disable them, then lit up a cigarette.

“Well, I’ll be fucked,†he muttered to himself, shaking his head. “They really do sit around talking about maths…â€
*****
Crap, what happened last time?
On to the next episode
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