Nearly a year ago, in JUNIOR: CHUTES & LADDERS, we met the young woman TRENTE GAGARIN waking from regeneration in what can only be described as a stone castle. Outside the stone castle, a snowstorm raged, while inside, the woman met her slave PATRA and sat for a biweekly trimming of her bright pink [magenta, even] hair.
TRENTE GAGARIN is the daughter of the CHAIRPERSON: the head of the NSR, cloaked in more than a modicum of mystery. This castle, with its futuristic fittings, is entirely reverent to this individual. Little is known of her outside her role as the figurehead of the New Socialist Republic. And yet she’s been soaked in fame as the NSR has reached across the globe with its capital improvements.
The woman who wakes is the thirti-first of the CHAIRPERSON’s daughters. She is a stranger to Earth, descending to join the NSR’s operations prior to the events of TRELAINE: ASHTRAY. Here, TRENTE showed us that she’s capable of shapeshifting by employing a bat-form to travel with the NSR-aligned DR LENARD TRELAINE. They travelled a great distance with the aim of spying on the retirement home of MYRTLE MARSCAPONE. They refer to the TRAITOR and the HAG, their monikers for MANDARC SOO and MYRTLE MARSCAPONE. TRENTE & LENARD discover the gravestone of a young man converted to vampirism by the VAMPIRE VLADISLAUS STRAUD. They puzzle over a glimmerstone buried with the body; TRENTE appears to have sensitivity to the crystals.
The pair scatters and TRENTE flees to the Charm Mansion, where TRENTE has taken up the role of Mother following the death of MINERVA CHARM. The summer passes without war. MINERVA’s daughter, GEMMA, has graduated high school and spends large swaths of time away from the house. In her absense, the pitter-patter of young feet re-emerges with the welcoming of a young elfin boy and a woman he calls “Auntie”.
DR LENARD TRELAINE//
Can you make a trip today?
I can. Why?
DR LENARD TRELAINE//
I've been courting one of the crown jewels.
I'm aware. Have you made progress?
DR LENARD TRELAINE//
The spider's been drawn from her web.
And what of the ruby?
DR LENARD TRELAINE//
Come and see.
The WEASLIE HOUSE is far from the mansion TRENTE GAGARIN now calls home. But it is of no matter. She’s able to fly long distances by willing herself to ignore the pain. All that remains is the boredom.
When LENARD TRELAINE arrives at the CHARM MANSION, the house is vacant except for the pink-haired woman.
He knocks on the door out of overwrought formality.
TRENTE GAGARIN hates answering the door herself, but she has been forced to suffice without servants during her exodus to Earth.
[bowing] HELLO, MY LADY.
YOU’RE SEEMING AWFULLY CHIPPER TODAY.
YOUR DOLL FIX YOU BREAKFAST IN BED?
TRELAINE pauses, standing straight up, and refuses to respond to the hostile comment. He motions to enter the house.
TRENTE raises an eyebrow and allows him entrance.
I’VE BEEN THROWING MYSELF INTO MY WORK.
AND ENJOYING NEAR EVERY SECOND.
THAT’S GOOD TO HEAR.
The Charm Mansion is immaculate; no evidence of children.
THE DEATH OF THE HAG SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN A POINT IN OUR FAVOR. THE ARACHNID HAS NOWHERE ELSE TO GO.
I THOUGHT YOU SAID SHE WASN’T BONDED VERY CLOSELY TO MRS MARSCAPONE.
SHE WASN’T, BUT YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THAT THE DEATH OF FAMILIAR FACES IS A TRANSFORMATIVE EXPERIENCE FOR EARTHERS.
IT SHOWS THE YOUNG THAT THEIR FEELINGS OF IMMORTALITY ARE SIMPLY THAT – FEELINGS.
THE DEATH OF THE HAG IS AN EVENT OF SADNESS FOR EVEN THE MOST STEEL-HEARTED OF HER FOLLOWERS.
SHE NEVER DEVELOPED HER DEATH-WARDING SERUM.
A LIFE, WASTED.
IT IS UNLIKELY ANY WILL RISE TO FILL HER PLACE AS STEWARDESS OF UNWANTED URCHINS.
BUT THERE WILL BE A HOLE IN THE FABRIC.
WAS IT COMPLETE DEATH?
DID ANY PERFORM THE RITES?
I’VE BEEN UNABLE TO APPROACH THE SITE OF DEATH.
HER CHILDREN ARE GUARDING THE AREA… ENTHUSIASTICALLY.
NO MATTER. KEEP AN EYE OUT.
TWO, YOUR MAJESTY.
Inwardly, TRENTE GAGARIN winces.
She knows he’s likely being fairly sincere with his shows of deference; (he often let his formality vary according to his mood) but it still reminds her of lessons with CALEB VATORE.
CALEB VATORE: the son of the GARDENER.
The boy had a valuable lineage, one she did not want to fall into the hands of the insurgents, but it was a trying process trying to educate him.
But that was a matter for another day.
She tries to put the thought out-of-mind.
WE’RE GOING TO THE YOUNG MAN’S HOUSE?
They make their way toward the back door.
Outside, the sun has emerged from behind a cloud and glares into their eyes. They are forced to squint to try to avoid its judgement.
LENARD waves his hand as if to imply his station.
In an instant, the pair disappear into a cloud of dark gas. The dust quickly collapses into two black bats. They shriek at each other and fly away into a blue sky.
When TRENTE GAGARIN & LENARD TRELAINE arrive at the WEASLIE HOUSE, the sky is just beginning to darken.
The weather has been amenable for their entire trip; temperate. TRENTE had a distaste for the intensity of Earth’s weather patterns, especially the harsh sunlight that made travel by daylight an inconvenient, even dangerous, proposition. But today the clouds have been helpful. Just the tips of their hair tickle the crisp, cool air.
In the grassy yard, they resume their human guise. TRENTE looks at LENARD, now wearing a troubled look upon his face.
WHAT’S YOUR DAMAGE?
LENARD is too engrossed in a process to reply immediately. He inhales the evening air a few times over, staring at nothing in particular.
THE SCENT IS DEGRADED.
HE’S NOT HERE.
LENARD TRELAINE had an excellent sense of smell. TRENTE, hailing from an artificial environment, possessed no such strength.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘THE DOG’S GONE’?!
WHEN FRIDAY PERKINS LEFT NEW YORK CITY, SHE TOOK THE TRAITOR’S DOG WITH HER.
THE TRAITOR? YOU MEAN…
THE TWO COHABITATED.
DISGUSTING. I HAD NO IDEA THE WORLD WAS SO SMALL.
SHE TOOK THE DOG WITH HER AS A CRUEL BARB. SHE LIKELY HAD NO IDEA OF ITS VALUE.
YOU CREATED THE THING?
A COMFORT OBJECT.
IT’S AT LEAST REFRAINED FROM PISSING IN THE YARD.
ALL SIGNS POINT TO IT NOT BEING HERE.
TRENTE crosses her arms.
ONCE, BOTH THE TRAITOR AND HIS MUTT WERE IN YOUR EMPLOY.
NOW NEITHER ARE.
SHALL WE ASK THE GIRL IF SHE’S GIVEN IT UP FOR ADOPTION?
LOST A WEDDING RING DOWN THE TRASH COMPACTOR.
TRENTE smooths her dress over her thin frame. They approach the house’s door. TRELAINE rings the doorbell. It’s an old style, connected to a physical bell inside the house.
A woman with bright red eyes opens the door. Her hair is resisting restraint behind her head; thin wisps of brown hair fluff about her skull.
She is nervous and speaks carefully, enunciating her words to give her time to think and resist emotion.
WELCOME, DOCTOR TRELAINE – AND –
She seems somewhat surprised to see the DOCTOR’s companion. The pink-haired woman doesn’t reflect her surprise and returns in a rather droll voice:
I’M THE PRIMARY DAUGHTER OF THE CHAIRPERSON.
FRIDAY’s eyebrows raise, her expression softening in deference.
OH! WELL – WELCOME, WELCOME!
PLEASE, COME IN!
Inside the house, a gingered young man rises from a computer chair to greet the pair walking through the doubled front door.
PLEASE MAKE YOURSELVES AT HOME. I’M JUST BARELY NOT A GUEST MYSELF.
She gestures to the man freshly risen.
THIS IS THE OWNER OF THE HOUSE, BRONALD WEASLIE, LAST OF HIS NAME.
WEASLIE bows his head, apparently impressed at his house guest.
TRENTE is aware that the man headed up a small crew of contractors – all well-paid Mortals who asked no questions.
Not that there was much to ask – though the WEASLIE family had an ancient pedigree, all accounts pointed to BRONALD as a particularly mediocre wizard.
But humans were most valuable in pairs.
THE PLEASURE IS ALL MINE.
WEASLIE had an air of generosity and honesty that contrasted the stark attitudes around him.
IT IS AN HONOR TO HAVE YOU IN MY HOME.
And before WEASLIE could offer the usual Earther hospitality:
MAY I TROUBLE YOU FOR SOME ICE CHIPS?
I… UH… MY REFRIGERATOR MAKES ICE CUBES…
I AM CAPABLE OF CRUSHING THE ICE MYSELF.
I JUST NEED SOMETHING COLD.
OF COURSE! I’LL BE RIGHT BACK.
WEASLIE leaves the room, bound for the kitchen upstairs.
TRENTE shrinks from the center of conversation and feigns interest in her surroundings, pausing in front of a painting upon the wall. She knew that her appearance here was mostly for show. She intended to allow the DOCTOR room – dark sorcery was his forte.
The young WEASLIE walked above them, house squeaking slightly under his weight. But it faded as the kitchen was located over the other side of the house…
FRIDAY. I HAVE TO ASK:
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG?
The silence that follows is silently speckled with anger.
The aged DOCTOR carefully crafts his reply.
YOU TOLD ME THAT WHEN YOU LEFT NYC –
[interrupting] WHEN DID I TELL YOU THAT I HAD A DOG?
ONE NIGHT I WAS SPEAKING WITH BRONALD AND HE SAID HE NEEDED TO TAKE THE DOG –
I HAVE NEVER HAD A DOG!!
She’s immediately furious. WEASLIE walks down to rejoin the group, cup of ice in hand. The cubes tinkle against the glass.
WEASLIE! WHY’D YOU TELL THEM I HAD A DOG?!
He gets to the last step.
I NEVER TOLD ANYONE WE HAD A DOG.
I MUST BE MISTAKEN… I’M TERRIBLY SORRY –
Silently spectating the confusion, TRENTE breaks into the conversation.
A MEMORY CHARM.
SOMEONE PERFORMED A MEMORY CHARM ON OUR NEW FRIENDS.
[quietly] THAT WOULD BE AN UNWELCOME TRUTH.
BRONALD senses the serious tone of the conversation and awkwardly holds the glass in his hand.
THERE’S ONLY ONE PERSON I KNOW OF CAPABLE OF SUCH A CRIME AND POSSESSING A VALID MOTIVE.
HE HASN’T WORKED SUCH FEATS SINCE –
AND YET YOU HAVE SEEN HIM WORK SUCH FEATS.
YOU CLEARLY UNDERESTIMATE YOUR RIVAL.
SHOULD WE GO SIT DOWN?
The room had a singular couch, bright yellow. It is unusual for the inhabitants to entertain – perhaps at all – but certainly not in this space.
YES, I WOULD.
WHO WOULD PERFORM A MEMORY CHARM ON US?
EXACTLY THE QUESTION.
The party starts to walk upstairs over the brick staircase.
IT WOULD EXPLAIN A LOT OF THINGS…
I’VE BEEN MISSING THINGS, TRIPPING OVER EMPTY HOLES IN MY LIFE.
LIKE SOMEONE TOOK A WHITE-OUT PEN AND COLORED OVER MY MEMORIES.
THE NSR INTENDS TO MAKE IT ILLEGAL.
WHEN THE NEWS FINALLY COMES OUT, WHEN ALL KNOWN IS MADE PUBLIC.
PEOPLE WHO DO SUCH THINGS WILL BE PUNISHED.
The upstairs of the WEASLIE HOUSE is open and welcoming; WEASLIE motions to a set of couches set against a corner.
A familiar pop song is playing down the hallway. The words interrupt TRENTE GAGARIN’s train of thought. But TRELAINE starts speaking to their hosts.
I DON’T KNOW HOW HE WOULD HAVE GOT HERE, HE’S NOT KNOWN TO TRAVEL SUCH LONG DISTANCES –
WE WERE FRIENDS WHEN WE WERE YOUNGER AND LIVED IN THE OLD COUNTRY –
The song ends and the radio stream breaks into commercial, the droning speech fading into the wall, unintelligible.
THIS MAN WAS FRIENDS WITH MYRTLE MARSCAPONE?
MORE SPECIFICALLY, HE WAS FRIENDS WITH MYRTLE’S DECEASED HUSBAND, VINCENT MARSCAPONE.
HE ONLY ASSOCIATED WITH THE HAG AFTER VINCENT’S DEATH.
PERKINS is silent a moment, perhaps taken aback by the use of the nickname.
I HAVE TO ADVISE AGAINST ITERATING THROUGH EVERY MEMORY THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN LOST TO YOU.
IT IS SHOCKING TO REALIZE THAT THE MIND CANNOT BE TRUSTED, AND THAT TRAUMA CAN –
PLEASE JUST TRUST US THAT YOUR MISSING MEMORIES ARE MISSING THROUGH NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN.
DON’T GO LOOKING FOR THEM TOO QUICKLY.
AND, OF COURSE, THERE’S NO COUNTER-CURSE…?
WHAT’S BEEN DONE AGAINST YOU IS NOT A CURSE IN THE STRICTEST MANNER OF SPEAKING.
MEMORIES ARE CONSTRUCTED LIKE A HOUSE OF CARDS.
IT’S EASIER TO DISMANTLE THAN TO BUILD.
ONCE THE CARDS LAY ON THE FLOOR IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW PRECISELY HOW THEY HAD BEEN ARRANGED.