Dawn's prison was a corner block surrounded by enormous, lichen-covered walls. At a glance, the property seemed utterly impenetrable save for the front gate, an equally enormous structure of elaborate steelwork that would test the skills of even the hardiest thief. It was crafted in such a way that floral and fauna motifs were implied in the steelwork, and at the very top Cherry sighted a fearsome lion snarling down at whoever dared to test its fortitude. It was a beautiful piece of architecture, if slightly rusted and worse for wear, but that fact did nothing to raise the littles' sinking spirits.
Through the front gate was an unruly lawn choked with weeds and overgrown greenery. For Dawn's mention of a groundskeeper, the landscape had clearly been left untended for a long, long while, as it resembled little more than a jungle from where the trio sat in their hired car on the opposite side of the street. In fact, the lawn had been so ridiculous under-loved that they could barely see the house itself. There was a cobble-stone driveway leading from the gate to the front door, but even if the inactive fountain in the middle hadn't been blocking the view, they likely wouldn't have been able to see much. The undergrowth had crept right up to the walls of the house and choked the life out of the brickwork. All they could see were glimpses of a second level and the roof above it; Mother Nature had censored the rest.
It was, in a word, impregnable.
Cherry silently fretted in the back-seat while Raymond began to laugh. "This place is straight out of a Disney movie," he said. "What was the one with the castle and the thorns and the dragon...?"
"Sleeping Beauty?" Even Sylvia cracked a smile at the comparison.
"Yeah, that's the one. Look at it!"
Cherry looked at it. It wasn't quite that bad, and if she was being honest it probably looked worse than it actually was, situated in an otherwise modern and tidy neighbourhood ...but it wasn't far off, either.
Raymond adopted a voice that was clearly meant to be his best impression of a narrator. Which narrator, Cherry couldn't say, but she knew he was never going to find employment as whoever that individual may be. "And so it was that our noble band of heroes, having made it thus far on little more than cheap coffee and even cheaper airplane food, cast their gaze upon the Wicked Witch's fortress and despaired," he drawled in a deep, monotonous voice. "For in that moment, all hope seemed lost. All manner of horrors must surely lurk in the shadows of such a foul place, waiting patiently for the chance to gobble on the bones of our intrepid adventurers as they clearly had on the bones of their inside man, the groundskeeper. Will they - "
"That's not funny," the little sighed, although she could clearly see Sylvia hiding a growing grin behind her hand. "We need to - "
"Will they fight their way through the Forest of Thorns to vanquish the witch and save the damsel in distress? Will they fly home with their metaphorical tails tucked beneath their legs? Stay tuned for the next episode of 'Littlest Breakout' to find out!"
"I said - "
Raymond fetched Sylvia an affectionate grin as she openly chuckled beside him before turning to face his roommate behind him. With a tired smile, he said, "I'm running on less than three hours of sleep, Cherry. Let me have my fun."
They had disembarked at eleven, and from the airport they had then caught a taxi into town. The initial plan pre-flight had been to have lunch and then immediately suss out the situation, but in her impatience to be started Cherry had convinced her companions to forgo a meal and instead find a place to hire a car. They had gone straight there from the arrival hall, and from there to the address Dawn had scrawled in her letter. Up until they had arrived, she had been running on the fumes of her encounter with Lisa and her 'son,' eager to be started and stick it to the unfair world that was so cruel to her people. She had been burning with determination and the need for vengeance. The time had come, damn it!
That all evaporated about thirty seconds after they arrived, leaving Cherry one hollow and miserable little. How the ever living hell were they going to get in there?
Raymond, godsend that he was, very clearly noted his roommate's demeanour, because his smile faltered and he turned back around to analyse the situation. "Okay," he began with a sigh. "Let’s get to work, shall we?”
“Please,” Cherry answered sullenly.
“Jumping the wall is going to be a pain in the ass, and I can’t even imagine how we’d bust through the front gate. What’s plan B?"
"Go home to bed?" Sylvia sounded almost hopeful.
"That would be a great plan, if it wasn't terrible. Any other takers?"
Cherry smiled internally as Raymond laid down the law. Sylvia frowned, but didn't press the issue. The exchange cheered her up more than she cared to admit.
When it was clear no other suggestions were forthcoming, the giant behind the wheel shrugged. "Well," he said. "First off, why don't we do this..."
He kicked the car into drive and edged up the street, turning the corner and bringing the adjacent wall into view. He had clearly wanted to see if entry would be any easier from this side, but as it turned out, the opposite was true. The wall was just as high all the way round, easily double Raymond's height, and this one didn't seem to have a means of entry through it.
It also spanned the entire length of the block.
Sylvia wow'd under her breath, and Cherry swore. "How big is this place?" the giantess marvelled, leaning past her boyfriend to ogle up at the intimidating edifice. "Your sister must have been adopted by the richest woman in the country to afford a place like this."
"Hang on, hang on," Raymond grumbled. He performed a ragged three-point turn and went back the way they'd come. "Maybe it's just the street facing ones that are..."
But it wasn’t. The original facing wasn't anywhere near the length of the second, so Dawn had a neighbour on this side. He'd clearly been thinking the 'fence'-line between the two houses might not be so overblown, and that they could maybe scale that instead, but they could very clearly see that the gargantuan wall continued unabated around the right side of the house too.
We're boned, Cherry thought to herself sadly.
"Well, I'm all out of ideas," Raymond said mildly as he parked beside the sidewalk. The engine died with a spluttering groan. "We'd need a ladder to get over that, and that's going to get us some weird looks. Let's make that our last resort."
He grimaced. "Anyone else?"
Cherry shrugged nervously, suddenly worried that they'd come all this way for no reason, but Sylvia (surprisingly) came to the rescue. "You're both thinking too literally," the giantess said after a moment.
Both her companions shot her startled looks, surprised that she had so much as considered offering a helpful word. The giantess seemed as surprised at herself as the other two, and from the way her face contorted she seemed to be grappling internally with her better nature to overcome her personal misgivings. At last, she sighed and shook her head. She turned to face the little in the backseat. "You brought the letter, didn't you? Maybe there's something there that'll help."
Wordless, Cherry dug it out of her purse and handed the envelope through to the front seat. Sylvia was going to co-operate? Really?
Raymond looked ready to make a quip, but quickly noted the importance of this development and kept his trap shut. Cherry silently thanked him for it, and the crinkling of paper was the only sound in the car as Sylvia pored over the missive for the first time. Both Raymond and Cherry looked on uncertainly, taken aback by the sudden change in their companion.
Don't get too ahead of yourself, Cherry cautioned herself. She hasn't actually done anything yet.
But apparently they'd both misjudged the giantess, for at that moment the Amazon made a triumphant noise and jabbed the paper. "Here," she said grandly, clearly proud of herself. "Three months in the playroom and at daycare."
She looked up. "Surely busting her out of a daycare would be easier than busting her out of here."
That's not even half a bad idea, Cherry marvelled. She looked at the giantess as if seeing her for the first time. Had this spiteful woman really just made an effort to help her sworn enemy?
Raymond looked like he could kiss his girlfriend, and after a moment he did exactly that. "You're a genius," he said with a laugh. He ruffled her hair playfully, which she awkwardly shrugged free of, her smile drooping slightly at the reminder that she'd just been useful. "Look at you, the mastermind behind the greatest prison break in history."
That honorific did nothing to halt Sylvia's decline back into brooding apathy. "I guess I'm here, aren't I?" she said reluctantly. "This is mad, absolutely mad, but...well, I can't stop you, can I?"
Raymond shook his head. "That's the only reason I'm here too, if it helps.” He cast a sidelong look at Cherry. "I couldn't stop her."
"I don't want you to get in trouble," Sylvia said, looking out the window. "I think this whole charade is ridiculous, but I don't want you to get in trouble and I'm here now, so..."
She shrugged, and then repeated to the windowpane, "This is mad."
The words rose unbidden to her tongue, and Cherry instantly bit them back...but knowing it was the right thing to do, she forced out a grudging, "Thank you."
Sylvia turned her attention to the backseat, fixing the little with a black stare. "Don't push your luck, little girl."
Raymond inserted himself into the conversation before the miracle of Sylvia's assistance could be tarnished by yet another argument. "Let's go inspect some daycares," he said with forced cheer. "And...well, I'm starving, so how about we find out where those daycares are located over lunch, okay?"
He turned an appreciative smile to his girlfriend...and after a moment, she reluctantly returned it in spite of herself. Cherry quietly watched the puppy love from the backseat, realising that something important had just transpired between the two giants and that now would not be the time to interrupt. Raymond loved his girlfriend, but her jaded opinions had never sat right with him. Sylvia agreeing to help wasn't just important in their quest to save Dawn, it was important in the quest to save his relationship. All three of them knew how close the couple had come to breaking up over the weekend. This was just the kick in the ass it needed to get back on track.
The giantess apparently realised exactly the same thing, because in typical Sylvia fashion, she quickly turned away to face the window yet again, wiping all expression from her face as she did so. "I'm doing this for you, Ray," she answered quietly. "Don't make me regret it."
Raymond gave her thigh an affectionate pat, and without pressing the issue any further he started the car up. Before they knew it, they were back on the road, this time towards the town centre to find somewhere with WiFi where they could eat.
Raymond whistled the whole way.
With the help of their trusty friend Google, it hadn't taken much effort to find the three local daycares which Cherry’s imprisoned sister would presumably be attending one of. Filled with renewed enthusiasm at the prospect of success, they quickly demolished a light lunch before jumping back in the car to be on their way to their first destination.
Even before they’d pulled up beside their first target, however, they realised that they'd under-estimated the opposition.
It was a small, squat building behind a playground and dog-ear fence, and it would have been perfectly homely if it wasn't for the robotic nannies milling about out front. Cherry knew that technology had come a long way since the days of her youth, but even so, she’d clearly underestimated just how far it had progressed, or how a daycare might see fit to utilise it. From her vantage point, the little counted a full five of the robots patrolling the yard. They were tall constructs, even taller than the average Amazon, with a feminine cast to an upper body that sat above a pair of rotating treads and below a computer screen that was evidently meant to be its face. Long, spindly arms snaked distances that seemed impossible, seemingly with the sole purpose of pulling open the back of some child's pants to check the state of their underwear from halfway across the yard.
"Fuck me," Raymond cursed from the front seat. He stared at the scene with frank disbelief. "Whose idea was this, again?"
Sylvia didn't flinch. "I didn’t even think,” she said wondrously, leaning over her boyfriend to better inspect the opposition. “I actually knew about these...things.”
Cherry rolled her eyes. Of course there was a catch to Sylvia’s plan. It was Sylvia’s. “That’s helpful.”
“I didn’t even think,” Sylvia repeated sharply. “I read an article about coming revamps in the education sector, ages and ages ago. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time – why would I? -and I completely forgot about it till just now. They’re supposedly meant to eliminate human error from classroom teaching.”
“Or daycare minding.”
Sylvia nodded. “And if I’m remembering correctly, it’s more than just those machines. The whole place is fitted out electronically to monitor anything that moves in there. Cameras, sensors, you name it. They don’t even need an actual person in there to look after those things these days. I can’t remember the exact details –I read that article a long time ago – but....” She cast a critical eye over the machines that cavorted around the yard. “I can’t see them being all that good for the kids’ social development, can you? I mean, sure, it’s great that they’re safe, but...”
Her voice trailed off, leaving her criticism unvoiced. That was okay. Cherry couldn’t say she cared all that much about the social development of little kids anyway.
“I guess we leave it to the professionals.” Raymond didn’t sound convinced. “I’m sure there’s a reason for it.”
"Do we really need to go in?" Cherry dragged the conversation back on point. The sight of those monstrosities chilled her. They were frightful things, and she had the sudden concern that if she took one step out of the car, they might lock onto her and assume she was a child that had somehow got past the protective fence. There would be no escaping if they literally dragged her in, and judging by the physic-defying length of those arms, she didn't doubt for a second they could do exactly that."Can't we just...I don't know, climb the wall back at Dawn's place at night or something?"
Raymond considered for a second. "Even if we do climb that wall," he finally said. "We won't know what we’re up against inside the house itself till we get inside. That's...that’s risky."
Cherry sighed. "I guess."
"You don't have to go in, I know what you're thinking. Just wait here. I'll go inside and have a look around, I'll tell them I'm here to...uh...pick up my sister's kid?"
"That won't work," Sylvia said. She shook her head. "You'll need to tell them the kid's name, and if that kid doesn't exist, they’re going to get suspicious. Tell it you're here to drop off something to the receptionist instead. You can't go wrong with that."
"Always looking out for me, aren't you?" He said with a faint grin. The smile he received in return prompted him to lean over and kiss his girlfriend, who looked positively radiant as he pulled away. "Here, let me take this..."
He grabbed Sylvia's purse from the floor at her feet.
"Back in a sec."
And then he was gone.
Both women watched with bated breath as their companion sauntered across the road with all the confidence in the world. Even before he'd opened the childproof lock on the gate, though, one of the robots was rushing over to intercept him. Cherry paled at the sight, and Sylvia's lips went so taut they were nigh invisible. The response time of those things was practically instant.
Raymond talked animatedly to his antagonist for a long while, seemingly without response. He gestured to the purse multiple times, but the robot's screen didn't so much as flicker. A full minute went by without change; then a second.
Then a third.
With nothing else to do while Raymond sold his spiel, Cherry and Sylvia turned their attention to the children. This was an actual daycare for actual Amazonian children, and the vast majority of the tykes playing on the far side of the fence were exactly that - children. They capered about without a care in the world, laughing and screaming and playing all sorts of childish games. They were happy. Carefree. Cute, even. Cherry wasn't much of a kids person, but even she would admit they were cute. They were as large as her, and that was a little confronting, but for what they were, they were adorable.
There were also littles in there, though, masquerading as the children they weren't. They weren't so cute. Cherry had successfully managed to avoid looking at them till now, but against her will she suddenly found herself staring with morbid fascination. It was easy enough to glance over them till you actually locked onto them - then, they were captivating.
There was a little girl in a pink sundress sulking in the far corner of the yard by herself, sitting on the ground with her knees up around her face. If it wasn't for the obvious bulge of her breasts, she would have fit right in with the others.
There was another girl sitting disconsolately on the swing set, apathetically swinging gently back and forth while suckling on a yellow pacifier. She had a garish, plastic tiara on her head and a frown on her face, and again, the breasts that gave the game away.
There was a little boy hiding in the cubby house just off to the left from where they were parked. Cherry couldn't see anything but his face through the window, but even behind the pacifier and bonnet she could see the shadow of a developing beard.
Sylvia cast a curious glance over her shoulder as the wait dragged on and Cherry remained mute. She followed the little's gaze, and the corners of her mouth twitched as she realised what was troubling her. "Cute, aren't they?" she said in a tone that could only be described as smug.
Go fuck yourself, Cherry thought.
"If you say so," Cherry said out loud.
The worst ones, though, were the littles who ran around with the real kids as if nothing were amiss. These were the ones who had evidently decided to either embrace the lifestyle imposed on them by their enormous caretakers, or had been forcibly made to do so. There was a boy running around in just his shirt and his diaper, engrossed in a game of tag with a girl undoubtedly twenty years younger than him. There was another girl enthusiastically digging in the sandpit and yelling at the top of her lungs how she'd hit gold.
Perhaps worst of all was the one girl having her diaper changed on a bench by the door and was too busy sucking on her toes to care.
Feeling sick, Cherry resolved to look at the car seat in front of her till Raymond returned. Her sister was either here or in a place just like this, and that made her feel like hurling the contents of her stomach all over the back of the driver's seat.
Raymond still hadn't got through to the robot, and a moment later he dramatically threw up his hands in disgust and strode back to the car. He looked positively furious as he opened the car door and slumped down in his seat, massaging his temples wearily as he did so.
"Well?" Cherry demanded the moment he sat down, already knowing she wasn't going to get an answer she was happy with. His face said it all.
"I tried," he answered with a sigh.
"I feel sorry for those poor kids," he said bluntly. "It even talks like a computer."
He pantomimed a conversation. "Hi, my boss sent me to drop off his wife's purse at her work! Does not compute. So...I can just drop it off in the lobby? Permission denied. Please enter command again. Boss's wife. Purse. Lobby. Does not computer. Nanny-Bot Model Number Whatever-The-Fuck-Model-Number-It-Was does not understand the question."
"So we go on and on like this for a while, and eventually I give up and ask if I can talk to someone with a brain. Apologies. There is no one with a brain on site. My operating system is far more sophisticated than any biological brain and is more than capable of aiding you." He snorted. "Can you believe it? These kids have literally no contact with a human being. This is how psychopaths are made."
Cherry felt her heart sink. That was that, then.
Sylvia, clearly eager to get into Raymond's good books after having a taste of what that entailed, wasn't quite ready to give up though. "What if we just steal her from the yard?" She suggested. "There's only the nannies to worry about out here..."
As one, they turned to look into the front yard of the daycare. As they watched, the 'face' of one of the robot nannies flashed a brilliant green, and suddenly the arms snaked a full twenty meters to grab a little boy on the far side of the yard. Before he knew it, he'd been pulled straight through the air to stand before the mechanical sentinel, his pants descending to his ankles through no volition of his own.
"There's only the nannies you can see," Raymond corrected her. They all watched as the robot slithered a robotic arm down the back of the kid's diaper, and finding it well used, picked the boy up with lightning speed and carried him away. "And if what you said before is right, then I think we can assume that there are other protective things going on that aren’t so obvious...and besides, I think these things are quite enough to deal with by themselves. Right?"
They didn't need to answer that to unanimously agree.
The door shut with a gentle snick behind the trio as they entered their home for the next week, a tiny shoebox of a room that boasted just two beds, a small kitchen and a TV set. They hadn't been able to muster the funds to conduct their breakout in luxury on such short notice, and as such they'd settled for the cheapest option they could find. It was cramped, and it was also sized for a giant (Sylvia had point blank refused to cram herself into an inbetweener accommodation for Cherry's benefit), but it was clean. Cherry figured that was the most important part. She could deal with the close quarters, even if they were far too big for her diminutive frame. That went out the window if they were also sharing the place with rats.
They had found the second and third daycare to be identical, although their resident kids hadn't been playing out front at when they showed up. Sylvia had tackled the second one and Raymond the third, and both had been turned away before even making it to the far side of the lobby by a nanny-bot. Both were evidently as secure as the first, and that meant getting in and out would likely be an exercise in crime and punishment.
"I just spent a day looking for loopholes in a daycare's security," Sylvia wondered out loud to herself, throwing herself down on the nearest bed. She removed her sunnies as she lay back, shaking her head in disbelief and staring at the roof. "Unbelievable."
"Believe it, 'cause you did it," Raymond said, sitting down beside her. He nuzzled his face against her own, unmindful of the appalled look Cherry gave him. "I'm proud of you, Sylvie. Not only did you not bitch - you helped!"
Sylvia hmphed to herself and tried to roll away from her boyfriend, but Raymond simply laughed and cuddled up against her back. "Come on, don't be like that," he teased. He kissed her cheek and added, "I love you."
The giantess was still for a moment, clearly fighting a losing battle with herself. In the end, she thawed and returned the kiss. "I love you too," she said with a silky smile.
Cherry rolled her eyes.
The night was a quiet affair. They ordered a pizza and bounced ideas off each other all the while, but it quickly became clear that they had no idea how to proceed. Even if they were willing to break into the overgrown mansion without knowing what security they faced on the inside, the only apparent way to do so was to jump the wall, which was going to require a very visible ladder, which was risking a call to the local police station. Alternatively, they could attempt to break into a daycare that outwardly seemed as secure at the Alcatraz. Both options were far too risky for any of their likings. By the time the sun had disappeared from the sky, they had unofficially given up for the night.
Raymond and Sylvia seemed closer than ever, and as happy as Cherry was for them, she couldn't bring herself to indulge in the friendly atmosphere. They'd just wasted a whole day achieving precisely nothing. It was easy for the Amazon couple to easily brush aside their failure - they'd just began to rekindle their relationship and the issue wasn’t personal for them - but Cherry couldn't bring herself to relax. They only had a week before real life commitments called them back home. Their return flight was Saturday evening. Time was running out.
What were they going to do?
To be continued in Chapter 5: In the Midnight Hour
To be continued in Chapter 5: In the Midnight Hour