“Exiled,” said Roger.
“Why on earth were they exiled?”
“To prevent this precise thing from happening—so that no one could ever replicate the work they’d done. So that no one, not even the makers themselves, could somehow outdo or create a better version of the thing itself.” Roger waved his hand dismissively in the air. “The woman who hired them—she was a madwoman. Raving.” He said it as if it were an adequate explanation.
Wigman laughed under his breath. He’d had experiences like this before—not necessarily finding people in exile, but certainly gaining access to people who’d been sheltered from potential competitors. It was, in fact, one of Wigman’s most prized qualities, his ability to convince engineers and chemists to leave competing companies. It was called poaching; it wasn’t a very honest way of dealing, but honesty rarely got anyone anywhere in his line of work. “Nothing a few sawbucks couldn’t fix,” said Wigman. “And let’s say we only found one. Wouldn’t that do the trick?”
Unthank looked to Roger imploringly.
“You don’t understand,” said Roger. “This is not your everyday exile. These makers were put in places where they could not be reached without considerable effort. And you’d have to locate both. Their employer took very severe measures to make sure that they’d both be needed in order to recreate the thing.”
“One was blinded, one had his hands chopped off.”
Unthank blanched. The Impassable Wilderness was suddenly seeming a very vulgar and rough place. It was the first time that his monomania, his obsession with the I.W., was put into question.
Wigman, on the other hand, was not daunted. In fact, he was quite the opposite. “Impressive,” he said. “I’ll have to meet this woman. I like the way she works.”
“Her essence was swallowed by living ivy,” explained Roger. “So that won’t be happening.”
“Shame,” said Wigman. Then: “Wait—what?”
Roger again waved his hand dismissively. “But this is all neither here nor there, gentlemen.” He looked to Unthank. “If we find them, do you think you’ll be successful?”
“Think?” Joffrey said, smiling. “I know I will be. With the two designers here, even without their, um, salient body parts, I have no doubt we can—”
But he didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence. At that moment, every last white transponder unit on the bookshelves of Unthank’s office let out a shrill, deafening staccato of BEEPS. They were a winking city of flashing red lights, these metal boxes, their needles flying wildly in the peaks of their gauges. The three men stared, immobilized, at the display.
The Unadoptables had returned.
Prue and Curtis were out of breath by the time they’d made it down the sloping hill of junk and had crossed the rusted rails of the train track. The carnival was in full swing, though its swing seemed to be of a fairly dismal arc. There were perhaps three families milling about the grounds, eyeing the yelping barkers and counting out change for the cotton candy machine. The blue-and-yellow big top tent held the center of the carnival’s meandering layout like a great eye, and the two friends paused only briefly to catch their breath before jogging the final yards to what they guessed to be the backstage entrance. A grumpy-looking man stood guard.
“We have—” sputtered Prue, her breath coming in heaves. “We have to get back … we have to see Esben.”
The man, chewing on a toothpick, looked at them askance. “Who says?”
“We say,” insisted Curtis. He thought quickly. “We’re relatives.”
Prue caught on quick. “Yeah,” she said. “That’s our dad. We need to see him.”
The man looked at them both, very carefully, before giving out a loud, braying laugh. “Thought I’d heard ’em all,” he said. He squared up and pulled the toothpick from his mouth before adding, “The show’s about to start, anyway. They ain’t lettin’ anybody back.”
Prue’s heart sank a little. Septimus said, “Squeak.” Curtis didn’t miss a beat.
“Where do we get tickets?” he asked.
Not far off, a sign above the ticket taker’s booth read FINAL PERFORMANCE TONIGHT! CHILDREN TEN AND UNDER FREE! Arriving there, Prue tapped on the glass, startling the man sitting within. He’d been reading a tattered paperback, and he looked up at the two children at the window as if he’d just teleported from the astral plane.
“Two tickets, please,” said Prue. She held her two fingers up.
The man looked down at them through his bifocals. “How old are you?”
“Ten,” said Curtis.
“Twelve,” corrected Prue, elbowing Curtis in the ribs.