NICOLE DE BOER as Charlotte (Charlie (Bug)) Paretsky



A Bug's Tale
(Charlie's Story)

by Van & Courier  ©2000

Chapter 1

Jamie Seaton set her drink down on the side table, stretched, and looked back at the flat-screen display before her.  On it, Margo Wells was smiling at her from Seattle over steepled fingers.  "And that's the news from Gondaloo," Jamie finished, "more or less."  Jamie turned and looked towards the ocean-side window wall of the Reef Lounge.  Bright shafts of midday sunlight danced through the blue-green water and played across the nine centimeter thick glass.  Jamie frowned and turned back.  "There is one more thing," Jamie said.

"Yesss?" Margo prompted.

"I tried calling Charlie yesterday to congratulate her on finally sneaking her dissertation past her committee, and Eve wouldn't put me through."

"Sorry for the cloak and dagger," Margo chuckled.  "Bug's involved in a hush-hush project for my Historical Preservation Foundation."

"'Historical Preservation?'  How deliciously mysterious," Jamie mused.

"Promise to keep it under your hat?" Margo purred.

"On pain of another of Kitty-Kat's infamous 'surprise security inspections'?" Jamie asked with a dimpled grin.  "Of course!"

"Very well," Margo said.  "Charlie's in Arizona, working on an archeological project."

"She's on a dig?" Jamie gasped.  "Charlie, grubbing in the dirt?"

"She better not be," Margo laughed.  "She's testing a new non-intrusive imaging system she helped develop.  It uses seismic background noise to build a 3D profile of what's beneath the surface—"

"Sort of like deep penetrating radar," Jamie interrupted.

"Charlie describes it as 'Synthetic Aperture Acoustic Resonance Imaging'," Margo continued with a wry smile, "'SAARI' for short. She can better explain the nuances of the physics.  I'm proud of the new image processing algorithm she developed.  It alone is a breakthrough."  Margo tapped a key and a sub-window appeared in one corner of Jamie's screen, showing a simplified schematic of the SAARI system.  Here's the summary file," she said, "uploading now.  The system's eminently portable, scalable, and completely passive.  This first unit takes something like thirty to fifty hours to build a single detailed image file, but it's only a prototype.  Anyhow, she's at a remote Anasazi site in the Arizona desert, and will be for the next ten days or so."

"'Anasazi'..." Jamie frowned in concentration.  "The cliff dwellers who mysteriously disappeared from the American Southwest a few hundred years ago."

"The very same," Margo confirmed, "only the 'Ancient Ones' have been gone more than 700 years."

"Wow..." Jamie mused, then frowned again.  "Wait, I thought I read that all the Anasazi sites were sealed."

"Are they ever," Margo chuckled.  "Scores of Anasazi sites are catalogued, but no digs are allowed, and their very locations are kept secret, to prevent looting.  It took months of negotiation to get the required permissions from the various governments and Tribal Councils involved.  A friend of Charlie's is in charge of the non-technological part of the project.  She's a post-doc archeologist and was Bug's college roommate."

"A looker, no doubt," Jamie suggested, with a leering grin.

TERI and CHARLIE (FotoFake by Courier and Van) "Yesss," Margo purred.  She tapped several keys and what was obviously a college picture of Charlie and her friend appeared on Jamie's screen, replacing the SAARI schematic.  Both coeds were wearing UCLA sweat shirts, grinning like goofs, and participating in the hallowed (and pointless) academic tradition of The Human Pyramid.  Teri Fournelle was indeed a "looker", with curly brown hair and a strikingly beautiful face.  "For future reference," Margo cautioned, "Dr. Fournelle is not a member of the Inner Circle, nor is she a candidate."

"Not yet, anyway," Jamie said with a wink.

"You're incorrigible," Margo sighed.  "Anyway, Charlie, Dr. Fournelle, and a Navajo Police Sergeant are quite literally up a canyon conducting the test.  The site's in a pocket valley in the middle of a very long slot canyon, probably one of the few places left on the planet beyond the reach of reliable satellite service."

"So she probably wouldn't have been able to answer me even if Eve had put me through," Jamie said with a smile.

"Probably not," Margo agreed.  "They're already backpacking in all their personal gear and supplies, plus the scanning equipment, so more powerful communications gear was not a priority.  Well, I guess I better get some sleep," Margo said, suppressing a yawn.  "Say hello to Penny and... Where is Penny, by the way?"

Jamie smiled coyly.  "Uh... She's taking a swim," Jamie said with practiced innocence.

Margo cocked her head to one side and gave her freckled protégé an inquisitory stare.

"Okay, it was going to be a surprise for your next visit, but I'll show you.  I'm testing some prototype technology of my own," Jamie admitted.  "Eve, split screen, please?"  The screen displays in Seattle and Gondaloo neatly divided, and Jamie and Margo were presented with the image of...

PENNY (FotoFake by Courier) "A mermaid?" Margo asked in surprise.  In the new image window, Margo (and Jamie) could see Penny.  She was underwater; her arms behind her back, legs together, and all encased in a tight, black sheath, from just below her bare breasts and waist to her... flipper?  Her joined legs terminated in a transverse fluke of hard, black rubber.  Penny was also wearing a clear, full-face, diving mask (with an incorporated, translucent, rubber ball-gag).  Her short blonde hair swirled and drifted around her head as she dolphin kicked through the clear water.

"I had Eve adapt the basic rebreather suit design," Jamie explained with a proud grin.  "The buoyancy is set so she's stuck at a depth of about two meters.  Her arms are secured to make a more hydrodynamic package.  The next version will have catheters and a feeding tube, so the experiment can be... long term , and I'll have Eve add some color to the suit... counter-shading, maybe some subtle stripes or spots... something in colors to go with blonde hair and tan skin for Penny."

"Long term?" Margo asked.

"There are sensor buoys at either end of the lagoon," Jamie said, gazing at the screen and apparently missing her boss' inquiry.  "I told Penny I wouldn't let her out of the water 'til she touched each buoy in turn, a total of fifty times.  She swims that many laps almost every day, so I figured it was a fair trial."  On the screen, Penny could be seen surging through the water of the lagoon.  "She's about halfway through her task," Jamie said, admiring her friend's graceful style... and her bare shoulders... and naked breasts.

"Long term?" Margo repeated.

"Huh?" Jamie asked.  "Oh, sorry.  The final model will let Penny stay under for days.  I'll let her bask on the beach occasionally, of course.  Wouldn't want her to get too water logged."

"Of course not," Margo agreed.  "Well, I really do gotta go, so, if my schedule holds, I'll see you on the Landing Beach next month."

"Okay!" Jamie beamed.  "Lookin' forward to it, and thanks for the call.  Love ya!"

"Love you too, Freckle Fox," Margo said with an affectionate grin, and broke the connection.  She pushed back from her desk, yawned, stretched,... and smiled evilly.  "Eve?" Margo called.

"Yes, Margo?" the AI responded.

"When Jamie has finished designing her final version of Penny's involuntary mermaid costume, you will make two such suits, and without Jamie's knowledge.  The second suit will be in Jamie's size, of course, and the colors should be... oh... light peach and olive?"

"To go with her hair and complexion," Eve responded.  "Production of an additional suit will not be difficult.  I'll prepare several color schemes for your final approval."

"Excellent.  This trip I can look forward to a little... sport fishing," Margo purred.  She rose from her desk... and paused.  "She said 'to go with blonde hair and tan skin... for Penny'," Margo whispered.  "Eve, Red Queen override.  What are Jamie's full plans for this mermaid project?"

"Spoiler alert." Eve stated.

"Understood," Margo said.  "Continue."

"Jamie plans to have several copies of the final suit design ready for your next visit," Eve responded, "including one silver-gray suit in your size, and one in brown, with filters to allow the suit's use in swamp conditions, and with whiskers affixed to the diving mask."

"For a Kat-fish," Margo purred.  "Jamie, you little scamp!" Margo mused.  "This is now a Red Queen Project, Eve.  Jamie is not to even suspect that I'm aware of her scheme.  Keep me informed of all progress, and you are to influence her planning so that however she intends to capture her guests...  Drugged drinks, no doubt?"

"That is the tentative plan," Eve confirmed.

"Well... Jamie's surprise will be turned on herself..." Margo said, "and the Red Queen will not be using her mermaid suit.  Understood?"

"As Your Majesty commands," Eve responded.

Margo walked towards one opening door of her office, grinning and shaking her head.  "Little scamp," she mused aloud.
A Bug's Tale Chapter 1
Anasazi Site BC-131
Charlie smiled.  The SAARI link server's diagnostic program had finally finished testing every circuit in the sensor net.  She tapped the tiny display and the data collection cycle began.  "We're in business," she called back over her shoulder, then snapped the weatherproof cover closed.  "So... first full scan in two hours, first usable image in eight hours, and first full image in two days."

"If that toy of yours works as advertised," Teri teased.

"My toys always work!" Charlie exclaimed, grinning at her friend. "Besides, you picked the location.  There's probably nothing more exciting than an old beer bottle down there."

Teri looked up from her notebook.  "As long as it's an Anasazi microbrew," she said with a grin, then picked up her digital camera.  "Smile," she ordered.

Charlie glanced around, to be sure the sensor net, processing equipment, and a good view of the ruins would all be in the image.  Charlie brushed the sand from her bare knees and smiled, striking as "super model-ly" a pose as she could manage. The indirect, mid-morning light on the red-gold sandstone should make for quite a picture.

Teri clicked off an image and set the camera down.  "You were there," Teri proclaimed proudly, in her best canned announcer voice, "when the Fournelle-Paretsky-Begay Expedition boldly marched into the magnificent desolation of the Chuska Mountains, clawed their way to Site BC-131... and disturbed nothing!"

"Shouldn't that be the Begay-Fournelle-Paretsky Expedition?" a voice called from below the lip of the cliff opening.  The rope securing the wire ladder they had rigged for relatively easy access to the Anasazi site shook, and Janet's head came into view.  "After all, I'm the only one who knows the way back."

"Oh, I think I could find my way out," Teri laughed, "but Charlie probably could get lost in a slot canyon."  Charlie grinned and stuck her tongue out at her college friend.  "Anyway," Teri continued, "I'm easy."

"That's what the Tau-Kappa-Epsilons said," Charlie interrupted.

"The Begay-Fournelle-Paretsky Expedition it is, then," Teri finished, smiling, but pointedly ignoring Charlie's jibe.  "How's it going, Sarge?"

"I'm about ready to head back to the cache," Janet answered.  "I should be back late tomorrow... with fifty more pounds of gourmet, freeze-dried, imitation food, and various other odds and ends."

"Excellent!" Teri said with a smile.  "I'm gonna rig a sweat lodge down by the stream.  I'll try and have it ready when you get back."

Janet smiled.  "I'm gonna need it when I get back."

"Oh," Charlie called, "and before you leave, don't forget to—"

A slot canyon. "The weather net gives a point zero zero one percent chance of a flash flood down this drainage in the next forty-eight hours," Janet interrupted with a smile, "point zero zero five percent for the next five days, and the report was only three hours old."

"Okay," Charlie said, with a sheepish grin.  Charlie had been very impressed by her companions' stories about what things were like in a slot canyon during a flash flood, especially during the daylong hike through the slot to the pocket valley that hid Site BC-131.  Charlie remembered snaking along the sandy, occasionally damp floor of the claustrophobically narrow canyon, the towering walls never more than a few yards apart, and more than once only a few feet apart.  She had looked up at one point, and found a huge log, most of a complete tree, in fact, wedged between the canyon walls at least 100 feet over her head.  Janet had remarked that in a way, you could say that log was lucky.  Most logs that got carried into a slot by a flash flood came out the far side as splinters, most boulders as sand.

"One last thing," Janet said.  "Charlie, you want me to carry out that extra rope next to your tent?"

"Hmm... Thanks, but you better not," Charlie answered.  "We might need it... for when we reposition the sensor net and all."

"Okay, see you," Janet called, and dropped out of sight.

"C'ya!" Charlie and Teri chorused in unison.

Teri stood, spanked the dirt from the rear of her shorts, stretched, brushed the front of her work shirt, then walked towards ladder.  "I told you we were bringing in way too much rope, Little Bit," she remarked, then climbed down after Janet.

Charlie stood and brushed off her own shorts and shirt.  "I'll carry it out myself," she shouted after her friend, then grinned.  "Besides, my proud beauty," she continued in a husky, villainous whisper, "rope has all sorts of interesting uses on a camping trip."
A Bug's Tale Chapter 1

Jessie was not happy.  This was by far the worst thing Victoria had ever done to her, the worst predicament of Jessie's nineteen years.  She was coming to regret this devil's bargain she had made with her cousin and former guardian.  'I'll pay for your University education', Victoria had finally agreed, 'just as I've paid for everything else in the six years since you came to live with me... and you can start next Fall like you want... but you have to do something for me .  You have to help me test a few of the items in my special collection, starting with my new horse'.

JESSIE (FotoFake by Courier) Unfortunately for Jessie, the horse in question was not of the equine variety.  Jessie was nude and up on her toes, her feet approximately two feet apart, carefully balanced on a pair of raised stone blocks.  Heavy shackles linking each ankle to its respective block allowed Jessie to shuffle slightly on each rough, stony perch, but kept her from lifting her legs.  Further, her wrists were bound behind her back with cotton rope, as were her elbows.  More rope was tied through her wrists with a carefully compacted hitch, stretched to a pulley set in the stone ceiling directly overhead, and down to a heavy wooden windlass set in the stone floor several yards behind her back.  The windlass had been tightened 'til Jessie had no choice but to bend at the waist, her bound arms stretched towards the ceiling, nearly vertical.

The worst of her predicament was between her splayed legs: the aforementioned horse.  A thick, horizontal, iron bar was stretched between two heavy, upright, wood and iron posts.  It was triangular in cross section, like the huge blade of a very dull sword.  The bar's height had been carefully adjusted (by use of an elegant, worm gear mechanism) until the upward edge just touched Jessie's loins.  Her tractioned arms were increasingly uncomfortable, but it was Jessie's elevated heels that kept her full weight from pressing down on the cruel iron edge.

Jessie would have complained about her treatment, but for two factors.

Firstly, Jessie was gagged.  It was something that bitch Drake had come up with.  Wet leather thongs had been wrapped around the middle of a heavy, leather, dog collar, until its middle four-inch length was bound in a braided cylinder, about an inch and a half in diameter.  Then, wet doeskin was wrapped and stitched over the coiled thongs.  After the leather dried, Drake had repeatedly worked saddle soap and oil into the collar and wrappings.  At the moment, the wrapped leather cylinder was clenched between Jessie's teeth, the collar's double-tongued roller buckle tightly secured behind her neck.  The smooth leather tasted terrible.

Secondly, there was no one in the chamber to whom Jessie could address a complaint.  After securing her young cousin, Victoria had smiled, kissed Jessie's forehead, and left, locking the heavy oaken door behind her, leaving Jessie helpless and alone in the torchlit, stone chamber.  Jessie's best guess was that she had been suffering in solitude for a little more than an hour.

The chamber was stiflingly hot.  An iron brazier full of glowing coals shimmered in one corner.  Several branding irons jutted from the coals, but Jessie knew they weren't there to be used.  Victoria had assured her they were "just for atmosphere".  It was what the coals were doing to the real atmosphere that added to her discomfort.  Jessie's red hair hung limply around her face.  She gazed down at her freckled thighs, flat stomach, and hanging breasts.  All were flushed and beaded with sweat.  Her face was dripping, her eyes stinging.  Jessie shook her head, and watched as a salty drop fell from her nose and splashed the gray iron between her legs, leaving a trailing, black spot on one slope of the jutting, triangular bar.

How long is she going to leave me like this? Jessie asked herself... when she heard the door to the chamber being unlocked.  Please let this be over, Jessie prayed. Please let Victoria have had enough fun.

The door opened and Victoria walked into the room.  She had a light, folding, wooden chair in one hand, and a large, stemmed glass of red wine in the other.  Victoria's red hair was wet, and combed back in a tight, straight ponytail.  She was wearing an emerald green, silk robe, and apparently nothing else.  Jessie surmised her cousin had filled the time since placing her in this predicament by either taking a bath or a swim.  Victoria opened the chair and placed it directly before Jessie, then paced a slow circuit around her tractioned, straining prisoner.  Jessie slowly turned her head and watched her tormentor with tired eyes.  Finally, Victoria took a sip of wine, and gracefully settled into her chair.

"It's insidious, isn't it Jessie?" Victoria asked with a gloating smile.  "You strain to hold yourself off the bar for as long as you possibly can, the pain in your feet and calves building and building.  Soon they'll be trembling... maybe even starting to cramp... and finally they'll give out, and you'll find that the torture hadn't even really begun."   Jessie shook her hair out of her face, defiantly glaring at her cousin.  Victoria took another sip, and crossed her legs.  "I'm proud of you, you know," Victoria announced.

Jessie's eyes widened.  That was possibly the last thing she had expected to hear from her cold, usually distant and disapproving cousin.

"You bear it well," Victoria continued. "So very strong... no weeping, whimpering, pleading noises... not yet anyway... I guess you may be a McQuade after all."

Now Jessie was getting pissed. 'May be a McQuade'? Jessie fumed.  I'll show you 'strong'!  I can do this all day if I have to.  Jessie noticed a slight tremor in her left calf.  ...maybe.  Even more than avoiding torture, Jessie didn't want to let Victoria see her break.  I can do this, she told herself.

"May I interrupt your... midday diversion?" a husky, alto voice asked from the open doorway.

Victoria smiled at her young, suffering cousin, then turned to the door.  "By all means, Drake darling," she said.  "Join us."

Despite the heat, a chill ran along Jessie's straining body.  Victoria was bad news, but Drake was genuinely scary.

Drake sauntered into the chamber and stood next to Victoria.  She was wearing dark gray climbing tights, a black sports top, and technical climbing shoes.  The slim, athletic brunette gazed at Jessie with feral amusement, then took the wine glass from Victoria's hand.  She took a sip, licked her lips, and handed the glass back to Victoria's strong, freckled hand.  The seated redhead favored her friend and companion with an indulgent smile.  "Well?" she said finally.

"Your friend on the Ute Tribal Council finally came through," Drake purred, "only a little late.  Those... pot hunters... you're planning on dealing with are already at the site."

Victoria frowned.  "Not good.  You were supposed to be there waiting for them."

"Only a minor inconvenience," Drake said.  "If I leave within the next two hours, I can be in position by 0100, 0200 at the latest.  Plenty of time to be on the road back by dawn."

"Acceptable," Victoria decided.  "Jessie, darling," she continued.  "We'll have to continue this little experiment at a later date.  You're going with Drake to apprehend some criminals."

Jessie raised her gagged head and stared at her cousin.  'Apprehend'?  'Criminals'?

"Pot hunters who are planning on looting one of the prime Anasazi sites I've had my eye on,"  Victoria continued.  "Normally, I'd have the Sheriff or the FBI deal with them, worthless as they are under most circumstances, but these criminals have some information I require.  I may be able to have a significant impact on the illicit artifact trade for years to come if I handle this carefully... and privately .  You will help me, won't you?"

Jessie was wary.  She knew her cousin was often less than fully honest.  Jessie was certain Victoria had made more than a few questionable acquisitions of her own.  How else had she built one of the finest private collections of Anasazi ceramics in the world?  Victoria had things Jessie's precious Anthropology books didn't seem to even know about.  Jessie's left calf was trembling again.  Oh well... anything to get off this horse, Jessie thought, then nodded her weary head to the affirmative.

"Good Little Jess," Victoria purred, then stood and turned to Drake.  "Get her cleaned up and hit the road.  And be careful."

"Yes Mommy," Drake answered, with a sardonic grin.  Victoria smiled, trailed her hand across Drake's trim, muscled shoulder, and left the chamber.  Drake slowly walked over the the brazier of coals.  She grasped one of the irons by its wooden handle, and slowly pulled it from the coals.  The end of the iron was forked, its two tines curved and pointed.  It glowed cherry red.  Drake delicately blew on the end of the iron as she walked towards Jessie.  She put her hand in the Jessie's sweat dampened hair and pulled the prisoner's head savagely back.

Jessie gasped through her gag.  There was a flash of fear in her eyes as Drake brought the iron close to her wet, freckled face, then she locked eyes with her tormentor and glared defiantly.  Jessie's nostrils flared above her gag.  She could feel the heat of the iron on her cheek.

Drake smiled.  "Oh, you're no fun," she accused.  "You know Victoria would be very angry if I branded you, don't you?" she said.  "So I won't."  Drake tossed the iron into the corner.  It clattered, tossing glowing sparks into the air, and came to rest near the brazier.  Jessie could still see the glowing tip.

Drake tightened her grip in Jessie's hair, and despite herself the tormented redhead mewed through her gag.  Drake leaned close until her face was inches from Jessie's.  "I don't really want to take you on this little excursion," Drake said in a husky whisper, "but Victoria insists.  The order of the day is obedience.  If you do one thing I haven't told you to do while we're in the field, I'll haul you back down to these chambers, and we'll play with my favorite toys, understand?"

Jessie swallowed around her gag and nodded her head, or rather tried to nod her head.  Little motion was possible with her hair still in Drake's very tight grasp.

"Gooood," Drake said, with a gloating smile.  She then released Jessie's hair and walked to the door.  "I have some gear to inspect and pack," she announced, "so I'll be back for you... in one hour."

Jessie's courage faltered.  She screamed through her gag... but the heavy door was already closed.  She sighed miserably and hung her head in despair.  'One hour!'  Her calf was trembling again.  Jessie composed herself... and the trembling slowly subsided.  I can do this, she decided.
THE END of A Bug's Tale —Chapter 1

Chapter 2