"You're going to get noticed like that."The next morning
"I thought ghosts couldn't touch cold iron."
"There was someone in there."
"So, where's the alarm?"
Ayel shuffled into the kitchen in time to be barrelled into by her younger sister. "Tiff!" The blonde woman recovered by grabbing on to the counter. "Watch where you're going!"
"Move it, old timer." Ayel's younger sister, Tiffany, finished off her slice of toast. "You know better than to stand there." The redhead dashed out of the kitchen, then poked her head back in the doorway. "I need the van tonight."
"What for?" Ayel poured herself a mug of coffee.
"Hot monkey sex, why else?" Tiffany rolled her eyes. "None of your business, Am."
"Tiffany, really." Their mother's voice carried in from the living room.
"Sorry, Mom." The redhead's tone turned contrite.
"And I need the van today." Janet Lindeman stepped into the kitchen. "I'll drive you to school, Tiff. Ayel, do you need to get anywhere this morning?"
Ayel added cream and sugar to her coffee. "I'm good. I've got the day off, so," she looked down at her pajamas, "I'm going to take it easy."
Janet dishevelled her daughter's hair. "Try to get dressed at some point, dear." She filled a travel mug with coffee, emptying the pot.
Tiffany returned to the kitchen. "I like the look." She reached for her sister's hair.
Ayel swatted Tiffany's hand away. "Hand's off, sister dearest. Or I'll cut your hair off and sell it on eBay."
The redhead glowered. "You wouldn't."
"That's right," Janet said. "You wouldn't." She sealed the lid on her travel mug. "Ready, Tiffany? You have your homework?"
Tiffany nodded. "In my backpack."
"Let's go." Janet gave Ayel a peck on the cheek. "You might want to brush your hair, sweetie."
Ayel ran her fingers through her blonde tresses. "Thanks, Mom." She watched as her sister and mother left, then retrieved her laptop. Ayel plunked herself down on the couch, transferring the data from Alex's memory stick to her machine. The tracking information was a jumble; it took most of the morning for Ayel to clean it up for her own use. She focused on just the cargo in transit; Kristi knew more about the art than she did. The cargo, though, intrigued her. Most of it was being imported, coming through Montreal by ship or Toronto by air. All of the crates arrived in Ottawa on trucks. The exports were mainly bulk supplies, paper and the like being stored until transport could be arranged. Nothing in the exports caught Ayel's attention.
The blonde woman began checking the air cargo. Smaller packages, more valuable in Ayel's mind given the expense of flying versus sailing, with origins in Europe, Africa, and South America. Liqueur from Spain, pharmeceuticals from Brazil that were kept in Customs for an extended period, mahogany wood carvings from Belize, nothing Ayel saw as being out of the ordinary. The nuclear machine parts, however, did get the blonde woman's attention. The tracking information showed the crates were meant to go to the National Research Council, but the parts had been in the warehouse for several weeks.
An email arrived, the notification rising up from the bottom right of Ayel's screen. Welcoming the break, she checked her inbox. A message from Kristi, sent to both Ayel and Kieu, listed the art that had arrived at the warehouse in the past two weeks. Even with Kristi's notes, Ayel couldn't place the significance of the items. She rubbed her eyes. Stepping away was the best thing she could do at the moment, she reasoned. A shower would help clear her head.
Kristi fell back on her couch. The sheer amount of artwork meant that all the pieces started to run into each other. Alex's boss had a wide range of taste, from classic and formal to eclectic and vibrant to kitschy and tasteless. The tasteless was easy to track; they were, to a piece, mass produced. The classic ran towards paintings in formal styles by lesser known artists or from students learning techniques. The eclectic, though, was far outside Kristi's field. If any of the eclectic pieces had a history, she didn't know it or even know where to start. Kristi cursed her minor of Medieval Studies.
The tawny-haired woman went back to her work. Ginger clambered up on the couch beside her, wearing her tea towel as a toga. As Kristi pulled up an image of each piece, she let the tiny woman take a look. Ginger paid little attention, preferring to just listen to the music coming from the laptop's speakers.
The sound of a door opening upstairs got both Kristi and Ginger's attention. "Must be Janelle," Kristi said. "Time to meet your other room mate." Hearing her roomie's footsteps approach the stairs, Kristi called, "Janelle, I have something to show you."
"Before coffee?" Janelle's voice rumbled, rusty from a night of disuse.
"Coffee won't help here."
"Fine." Janelle stumbled down the stairs, still half-asleep. "What is it, Kris?"
Ginger stood up on the couch. "Hi!"
Janelle stopped. She blinked. "I'm still asleep."
"No, you're awake. Janelle, meet Ginger. Ginger, this is Janelle."
"I need a coffee."
Ginger jumped to the floor. "I need one, too."
"You two are going to get on great," Kristi said. She stretched, working out kinks in her back.
Janelle stared at the tiny woman running into the kitchen. "What is she?"
"She's Ginger." Kristi ran a hand through her hair. "I've been through this with Zaina. Just don't call her an elf or a fairy. Ginger hates that. As for what she is..." Kristi shrugged. "I've been looking, but the faerie become a jumble thanks to popular fiction and gaming. She's one of the Wee Folk."
"Wee Folk." Janelle resumed her trek to the kitchen. "She's not going to be a problem, is she?"
"Ginger's friendly and she doesn't eat much."
"And she loves coffee." Janelle sighed. "I'll go make her happy. I was wondering who was drinking espresso."
"Don't give her any of that! Regular coffee in an espresso cup."
Janelle disappeared into the kitchen. Ginger sang a refrain of, "Coffee, coffee, coffee," loud enough for Kristi to hear. The tawny-haired woman set aside her laptop. A break would do her good, she thought. Besides, she needed lunch. Research on an empty stomach never worked for her. Kristi stretched, then joined Ginger and Janelle in the kitchen.
Kieu flopped down on the floral couch that dominated her family's living room. She settled in, kicking up her feet on the back of the couch as she fired up her tablet. Her memory of the past few months still felt dream-like to her. She was sure that Kristi and the blonde girl had started a business, and she vaguely remembered going out to the middle of nowhere with them. The tiny pixie, though, Kieu would have sworn was a dream, except that the creature had been with them last night. Then again, once colours affected other senses, Kieu knew her memory was suspect.
The other question on the dark-haired woman's mind was the waveform she found on her laptop. She had named it "proof of concept.wfm", in a file format she'd never seen before except for her notes about the gadget she had built. The gadget also explained what happened to three of her old phones. Kieu managed to decipher her own notes, reminding herself to write a translator for such phrases as "cuneiform the hypoteneuse" and "bumblebatch cummerbundtcake".
The waveform itself wasn't unusual, multiple sinusoidal waves with secondary and tertiary harmonics, as she'd expect if she recorded a band. It was the frequency that bothered her. If she was correct, there should be radio interference, except her recordings showed none. Kieu let her head drop back as she pondered the implications. The ability to use the same frequency without overriding an existing broadcast would be useful.
The front door slammed shut, breaking Kieu's train of thought. She snapped her head around to find the interruption. Her younger brother stared at her from the front door, his jacket half off. "Mom! There's a stranger on our couch!"
Kieu's mother came downstairs, alerted by the yelling. She rolled her eyes on seeing the two siblings. "Quyen, that's Kieu, your sister."
Kieu sat up, reaching for a cushion. "Do we have to do this everyday?"
"You better not be thinking of throwing that at Quyen, Kieu," her mother admonished.
"No, Mom." Kieu pulled her hand away from the cushion.
"You can't really blame him, Kieu. We never see you during the semester. Your father and I worry about you."
"I know, Mom." Kieu settled on sticking her tongue out at her brother. "But I'm getting straight As."
Her mother sat on the couch beside her. "I know." She brushed Kieu's blue-black hair off her shoulder. "We'd like to see you more, awake. Quyen might not remember what you look like anymore."
"Maybe if he was smarter, he would."
Quyen threw a shoe at his sister. Without looking, their mother caught the sneaker. "Quyen, no throwing anything in the house. You might have hit me."
"Go get cleaned up and start your homework." Kieu's mother watched as Quyen ran upstairs. "And, Kieu, put that thing away. You're always looking at it. You should do something else, expand your horizons, find a nice boy. Or a nice girl, I don't care which."
Kieu smirked. "Can I have one of each?"
"Only if you show you can handle even one at a time." Kieu's mother gave her a playful slap on the shoulder. "Really, Kieu, there's a lot more in the world than that little screen. Put it away."
"Yes, Mom." Kieu closed the lid on her laptop. She waited until her mother returned upstairs, then retrieved her tablet.
As she sat back down, her mother called down, "And put that away, too. Go get some fresh air, Kieu."
"And where are your nuclear accelerators?"
"My boss was reviewing the security tapes for the week."
"We'll need him to call a lawyer for us."
"Didn't the Aztecs do human sacrifices?"