The Inspector hesitates before Alma’s door for a moment before knocking. Though he is just beginning to consider the sergeant a friend, he is loathe to intrude upon the privacy of her room, especially without her present. But with her exhausted by the effects of the tainted water, he has no choice. He knocks.
Moments later the door opens a crack. “Oh! Inspector Sky!”
“Good morning, Rosemary,” he says. She is peeking around the edge of the door, her hair wet.
She smiles up at him, then gasps and fusses with her hair, letting go of the door. “Ohh! I haven’t done me hair yet!” The door swings wider and he sees she’s wearing nothing but a towel cinched around her waist, but she quickly wraps a smaller one into a turban around her hair. “There!” she cries.
Sky carefully does not stare at her breasts. Remember the islands where you were first worshipped, he thinks. No one wore clothes above the waist in that tropical paradise. You’ve really been away too long, for this to distract you so. Still, he cannot help but notice how her creamy shoulders and upper chest are pleasantly sprinkled with freckles, like her face. “Ehm, Rosemary, I need to speak with Lady Doria, if she is up to it.”
“Oh, she’s much better.” Merri looks back over her shoulder. Sky catches a glimpse of a pool, of greenery. In the pool he sees Sage and the two younger bunnies bathing. Sage is washing them...as is Mayumi. Just as he sees her, she looks up and locks eyes with him, and he feels it happen again: his breath catches. She also becomes very still, looking at him. Her eyes...
Merri looks from the Inspector to May, and back again, then gets a knowing look on her face. “Er, Inspector...Inspector!” He tears his eyes away and looks at her, almost as if he doesn’t recognize her for a moment. Her voice quite amused, she says, “I would invite ye t’join us, but...”
“Oh, of course. I, uh, wouldn’t enter without being invited by Alma. Could you ask Doria to meet me upstairs in the bar, when she’s ready?” He smiles a farewell to her and withdraws, and is halfway up the stairs when he hears the door open again. Looking back, he sees not the expected Doria, but Mayumi, dripping wet, wearing a hastily donned t-shirt, dark green with “BOUNDERS” splashed across it, the name of a local football team. The water from her body is just beginning to soak through the shirt in big splotches. She stops when she sees him. He walks back down the stairs to her.
“Good morning,” he says.
“What’s going on?” she asks abruptly. “Cala was too busy to tell me, and Aliyah was nodding off at her desk! Everybody’s running around... Oh, I hate being stuck down here, not able to help!” Her voice is thick with frustration, and she looks like she’s barely restraining herself from punching the wall.
He is surprised, knowing how she usually tries to keep a tight rein on her emotions, but then again, not so very surprised – he has seen her lose control of those emotions before. He hesitates for a moment, but then puts himself in her place: a cop once upon a time, now stuck babysitting a goddess while everyone ignores her.
“Doria and her mistress were attacked,” he begins.
“Yes, she’s been telling me about that.”
“Oh, have you been interviewing her?” he asks, smiling.
She smiles back shyly. “In a friendly way.”
“We may have to compare notes later. Well, you know the Pearl was stolen, then? We think it has been contaminated, and that this is contaminating the water supply of Three Rats. The tainted water is sapping people’s energy. We’re not sure what the motivation is for this–” The door opens again, and Doria comes out wearing her swimsuit as before, but with a multicolored shawl wrapped around her waist.
“You wanted to see me, Inspector?” She looks at Mayumi and back to Sky, curiously.
“Yes, Lady Doria...” Sky focuses on Mayumi. “Meet me upstairs in a few minutes. Bring Sage.”
The Bunny stands to attention and bows formally, then rushes back to her room.
As they ascend the stairs, Doria says to Sky, “They’re fascinating, aren’t they? So unselfconscious. Are they from another world?”
“No, they, uh...” As they reach the top of the stairs he strides over to a table and pulls out a chair for her. “Sorry, I need to speak with you about the Pearl.”
“Of course,” she says, but he can see her looking at him quizzically, obviously wondering why he avoided answering her question.
He quickly tells her that her Lady is safe, and that the Pearl is being searched for by all their officers. He tells her the theory that it has been corrupted. The priestess looks ill at the thought. “Who?” she demands. “Who would commit such blasphemy? And why?”
“From your description of your attackers, we believe it is a criminal family that has recently moved into the area. I think they are attempting to display their power, to cow everyone into submission. If they control the Pearl, they control the water supply. They can make any demands they want.”
Doria nods, distressed. “What can we do? The mortals are suffering! And what about my Lady?”
“Of course, we need to find the Pearl. In the meantime, Sergeant Gwydion is helping the Oracle recover. I would like you to help with organizing your temple’s followers. We need to start bringing fresh water into Three Rats, and distributing it to the people.”
She thinks it over, then nods. “Yes, we can do that. But where will we distribute it from? Here?”
Sky says, “I think I know a better place.”
Mayumi and Sage arrive, fully dressed in clothes derived from the old Guardia Popula tunics that were their first clothes, tailored to fit them. Mayumi is wearing a pleated skirt of almost the same sky-blue shade, while Sage wears a pair of knee-length blue shorts with his tunic.
“Doria, please describe your attackers to Mayumi and Sage.” Mayumi immediately takes out her small notebook and a short pencil from her tunic pocket. “Mayumi, Sage, after you're done here I want you to go through the case files, trying to identify Doria’s attackers. I’ll go speak with Corporal Kaur now and make sure you’re granted access. Please bring Doria to Corporal Kaur’s desk when you’re done taking her statement.”
After receiving nods of understanding from them, he rises and leaves the bar.