There were two hours left until Anna arrived with the former citizens of Bright Springs. Statistically speaking, there was almost no chance that a disaster would occur the moment they arrived. Tam was sure of the math on that. She was just as certain though that whatever strands of magic had led to the Mare Luna Estates being the townsfolks new home weren’t going to ground themselves out harmlessly without a bit of help.
“How are these people moving in here tonight?” June asked. “There haven’t been any sales yet. Are they just going to be squatting in the houses until everything gets put together properly? Will everything get put together properly?”
Tam didn’t fault her for asking. Werewolf or no, June still had to consider the property value of her house if she was going to put three kids through school.
“That would be my fault,” Jimmy B said. He’d joined them as soon as he could but between being farther away and not quite as fearless a driver as Tam was, he’d lagged a good bit behind them. That the delay also meant he wasn’t on the front line for facing the werewolves and didn’t have to enter the scene until any hostilities were resolved was, almost certainly, just a side benefit.
“You talked with the developers?” Henry asked. Tam could see the incredulity in his eyes. Housing developers were difficult to get ahold of under the best of circumstances, and should have been impossible to contact after business hours closed, not to mention the various other parties that would need to be brought in to complete a deal of that scope. Jimmy B had a gift though.
“Yeah, Marty sends his regards,” Jimmy said. “I guess they’ve been having a hard time moving this units, so getting the houses offloaded all at once like this is going to keep him afloat through the balance of the year and beyond.”
“When did you start putting this together?” June asked.
“Around 6:00 I think?” Jimmy said.
“This morning?” Henry asked, astounded.
“Oh no, that would have been easy,” Jimmy said. “Tam gave me the call around 5:30 tonight.”
“But that was only a few hours ago,” June said. “Real estate doesn’t move that fast.”
“It helps to have friends in the right places,” Jimmy said. “And a real estate lawyer on speed dial.”
“Can you work some more of that magic and see about getting the basic supplies they’ll need?” Tam said. “We can worry about clothes later, but food, water, soap, towels, toilet paper…”
“Already ordered and on a truck,” Jimmy said. “I need to check in with some folks, but it should get here just before they do.”
“Excellent, then that leaves paying a visit to Tartarus Technologies,” Tam said, and picked up her racing jacket.
“I’m with you,” Cynthia said, standing to join her.
“Thank you for all this,” Tam said, addressing Henry, June and the kids.
“We haven’t done anything though,” June said.
“You listened,” Tam said. “That counts for a lot.”
The Tartarus Technologies grounds weren’t just landscaped. Every green and growing thing on the lawn leading to their research building was sculpted and constrained, wires choking off the growth of trees, hedges trimmed into perfectly regular shapes which might have held artistry if they weren’t drenched in an omnipresent sense of constraint and control. Nature was allowed on the premise only in servitude to the will of its corporate master.
“Who are you here to see?” the guard at the checkpoint leading into the facility asked.
“Kevin Weist,” Tam said, naming the facility’s Director of Research and Development.
“Ms. Greensmith?” The guard asked after finding their name on a name on the approved guests list for the evening. That should have been enough but he looked at the bike and Tam’s passenger for a long moment.
Tam paid no mind to how strange she and Cynthia appeared, she was certain weirder people had shown up at the facility before, and instead nodded at the fake name.
“Mr. Weist is in the main building,” the guard said and passed them through. His job was not to question the whims of his superiors just to do what the system told him to do.
There would be photos of their arrival. Those photos would, sadly, be lost in a hard drive crash in two hours. Tam didn’t have any particular reason to secure her identity against Tartarus but given PrimaLux’s track record she didn’t see the need to take any chances either.
Weist wasn’t waiting for them at the door, which didn’t surprise Tam. He wasn’t aware they were coming. She could have included him on the meeting that she booked for them, but something told her he would have been conveniently unavailable if he caught wind of who wanted to see him.
She signed in herself and Cynthia at the main desk and collected their badges before claiming a space in one of the boardrooms.
It was late at night, far past working hours, so when Kevin Weist got a high priority meeting reminder telling him that he had fifteen minutes to be in Boardroom A, he at first dismissed it as a glitch.
Five minutes later it reappeared and he read it but dismissed it again, thinking someone had entered the wrong time for a meeting the following day.
Five minutes after that, the meeting reminder appeared again but this time when he tried to dismiss it his computer froze and a woman’s voice said “don’t keep us waiting any longer Weist.”
Boardroom A was on the ground floor, but Kevin managed to make it there before the final five minutes ran out. When he caught sight of Tam and Cynthia, clad in motorcycle gear, with their helmets on the table, waiting for him, he pulled up short.
“What is this? Who are you?” he asked.
“Zoe Skillings and Claudia Goodwin sends their regards,” Tam said and was delighted to see the names of the former Director of PrimaLux security and Vice President of R&D still held weight with their subsidiaries.
“We’re not affiliated with PrimaLux anymore,” Weist said.
“No, you’re not,” Tam said. “Which means you’re also not affiliated with their investment backing anymore either. From what I can see in your ledgers you haven’t been operating without anything like a sustainable amount of revenue since Tartarus was founded, and the investment nest egg you did have is pretty well dried up isn’t it?”
“Our accounts are not publicly available,” Weist said.
“It’s adorable you think that,” Tam said, “But it doesn’t change that you’re out of money and scrambling for anything that might let you keep the lights on until about next Thursday or so I believe?”
“Why are you here?” Weist asked. “Is this a buyout offer?”
“A midnight buyout?” Tam said. “That would be fairly classic I suppose, but, no, we’re here about another matter. You are primarily a bio-tech researcher company, which means you have access to all sorts of legitimate specimen samples, so can you tell me why you’re stealing cows?”
“I’m sorry, what?” Weist asked.
“Cows,” Cynthia said. “Several have gone missing from local farms. It’s caused at least one that was on the edge to close, and we’ve got tire tracks from the most recent one which match the tracks for your fleet trucks.”
“Why would we steal cows?” Weist asked, genuine confusion clouding his face.
“Bio-weapon research?” Tam said. “I know that’s not on the official corporate prospectus but it didn’t take much digging to find that you have a number of bio-weapon programs currently under development.”
Weist looked back and forth between the two women, his night turning into one of the few nightmares that hadn’t been plaguing his sleep recently. The weight of the failing company bore down on him, crushing his resolve, and his instinctual refusal to acknowledge Tam’s claim crumbled with it.
“No,” he said. “It can’t be them.”
“Are you sure?” Tam asked.
He rose and went to the door before saying “Come with me.”
Tam and Cynthia were treated to an elevator ride down to an unmarked sub-basement. When the doors opened, a broad and well lit lab was laid out before them with a few techs still inside, behind partitions which could stop an armored tank from breaking through. The techs inside were clad in the sort of environment isolation suits that made Cynthia curl her toes in jealousy.
Weist spent the next fifteen minutes pointing out the security features, their backups, the backups to the backups, the failsafes for when all the backups failed, and the monitoring systems which monitored the monitoring systems that ensured everyone was following proper protocols every second of the day.
“This is not the kind of work someone plays around with,” Weist said.
“What sort of plagues are you developing?” Tam asked.
“All of them,” Weist said. “Potentially. Our focus is actually on developing cures, but we can’t do that without active test specimens. Typically those are laboratory breed mice, but we also work with bird specimens and chickens. Cows however do not fit within the control requirements for the research we’re doing.”
“Why not?” Cynthia asked.
“Because we can’t guarantee that we can keep control of sick animals of that scale in this facility and without the guarantee of keeping the animals isolated we can’t risk exposing them to the pathogens we’re developing treatments for.”
“And no one’s cutting corners thanks to the budget woes?” Tam asked.
“No,” Weist said. “We’d never get FDA approval to move onto a new testing stage unless we could show that we conformed to the proper standards.”
“And what about the products which don’t require FDA approval?” Tam asked.
“Well for those we have a different…” Weist trailed off as the answer came to him, “facility.”
“Need to make a phone call?” Tam asked.
They arrived at the Tartarus Technologies Agricultural Products Research Center less than thirty minutes later. Unlike the main corporate office, the Agricultural Products building was little more than a renovated farmhouse and barn tucked away on an open patch of land in the Vermont woods. It had a few cars in it’s small parking lot, a hen house which was presumably full of sleeping hens, and glowing cows.
“Should those be doing that?” Cynthia asked, pointing at the frankly adorable bovines that shone with various pastel lights.
“I’m going to guess that this is their big new breakthrough?” Tam said.
One of the researchers picked that moment to exit the farmhouse and, seeing Weist advancing with a murderous look in his eyes, exclaimed “Wait, boss, I can explain everything!”
“And could he?” Anna asked.
“Not well enough to keep from being fired,” Cynthia said.
“Apparently the Agricultural Products division’s great idea for keeping the company solvent was to diversify out into performance enhancing drugs which could escape detection by the current suite of monitoring tests,” Tam said.
“It’s a sadly lucrative market,” Anna said. “But, glowing cows?”
“They were testing the effects on cows before they went to human trials,” Tam said. “I don’t know why they picked cows, maybe it was just intuition that something was wrong in the formula? Or maybe just desperation? In any case, the stolen cows began mutating. Fortunately the mutation is a fairly benign one, unfortunately it rendered the cows useless from a testing perspective and difficult to dispose of.”
“It sounded like they were still hoping to figure out what went wrong from them too,” Cynthia said.
“So what will become of the cows now?” Anna asked.
“They’re going back to their owners,” Tam said. “Weist thinks they’ll spark some tourism and there’s probably a few papers to be published around them. Tartarus won’t be the ones to get the credit there though. They’re essentially bankrupt now.”
“Yes, I mentioned that to Zoe,” Anna said. “I believe some new investors will be stepping in tomorrow before their experiments need to be shut down and destroyed.”
“Sounds like Zoe’s getting a bio-tech company at a bargain price then,” Tam said. “Was she setting us up for this?”
“I’m not sure,” Anna said. “I’ll have to ask her at the ballet next week.”
“Would she tell you something like that?” Tam asked.
“I believe she would,” Anna said. “That’s part of what we’ll be working out I think.”
“Wasn’t she your mortal enemy a few months ago?” Cynthia asked.
“Yes, but everyone deserves a second chance,” Anna said.