Monthly Archives: April 2014

Scene 161 – Aeterna

AETERNA

LAURA

“She can’t be immortal,” MC insisted from one of the wall speakers.

“Rejecting the evidence in front of you is not science, it’s politics,” I warned.

“And rejecting the Laws of Thermodynamics isn’t science, it’s witchcraft!” she nearly shrieked.

“You’ve been dealing with our powers for months.” I waved my hand. “Derek can create shields out of nothing—how much energy would that take? More than contained in the human body, I’m sure. And that’s just one. Akane might technically be a time traveler, depending on how exactly her power works.”

“Yes, but surely that power comes from somewhere. That has to be what those reservoirs are. The connection to whatever power source is generating the energy to do these things.”

I nodded. I had heard this before. “Right, of course. What I’m saying is…why are you complaining about immortality, when it’s actually simpler than shields and so on?”

The human body isn’t really that complicated, all things considered. Lots of scientists and transhumanists have ideas on how to achieve immortality. Sure, most of them aren’t anywhere close to actually making it work, but it’s within the laws of physics as we understand them.

Solid-state energy shields that appear out of thin air, and can either just float in defiance of gravity or be moved like a real shield, depending on the creator’s whim? Yeah, not so much.

“The immortality isn’t the problem. It’s more than that. Her regeneration is perfect, and she doesn’t even need to eat or drink or breathe. It feels like she’s not just immortal, she’s…eternal.”

“MC, this isn’t like you. Focusing on feelings rather than hard facts. What’s going on?”

She sighed through the speakers. “You’re right, you’re right. We just don’t have any data. It’s like playing darts in a dark room. At some point, you just have to start throwing stuff around.”

I sipped at a cup of coffee while I glanced over a pad. “That’s basically what I’m doing at this point.”

“I noticed that when you pulled out the woodchipper.”

I tried and failed to quash a smile. “Hey, that was far from random! Short of throwing her in a volcano, it was the most severe trauma I could think of. It was only a logical test.”

“Really?” she asked incredulously.

I shrugged. “And I wanted to throw her through a woodchipper.” I grinned. “I enjoyed it much more than I should have.”

There was a knock on the metal door. Before I could answer, it squealed open and Doctor Henry walked in.

I glared at him. “Hey, I don’t use a shipping container for an office because I like visitors.” Mostly, it was because I needed a place close to the warcage. At first, I had used one of Henry’s offices, but that had proven problematic.

The man shrugged and closed the door behind him. “Maybe if you locked the door, it wouldn’t be an issue.”

With a snort, I turned back to my work. Last time I had locked the door, he had knocked for ten minutes until I gave up and let him in.

“Anyway, I thought you might want to know we finally managed to get a CAT scan done.” He plopped a pad on my desk. “It’s not a particularly good picture, but it’s something.”

“Hm.” I picked up the pad and started paging through it until I found what I was looking for. “A high-powered flash scan. It can’t be used normally, because it would kill the subject, but when your subject is immortal…”

How we did it is far from the most important part,” he insisted. “Look closer.”

I tapped through the files. “I’m not seeing anything new. Heart with some extra bits, weird spine, her kidneys are undersized…” I shook my head. “If there’s anything else here, I don’t have the training to see it.”

“Well, Chao did say the circulatory system seems a bit odd, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Trust me, just look closer, and you’ll be surprised you didn’t see it in the first place.”

I turned back to the images. Okay, something someone with minimal training would be able to spot easily…weird bone structure? No that looked normal, as far as I could tell. Extra organs? Other than the extra tubes on the heart, there was nothing I could see. What was he—

Oh. Yeah. That was a big one.

“This has to be a mistake,” I insisted. “The violent nature of the scan must have—”

“We checked,” he insisted. “She was wide awake throughout the entire procedure, howling curses at us.”

“Then it’s a statistical anomaly. It happens. It just captured the wrong millisecond—”

Without saying a word, Henry reached forward and tapped at the pad, bringing up the other nine scans, all of which showed the exact same thing.

But that shouldn’t be possible.

According to this scan, most of Elizabeth’s brain was simply not functional.

Not ‘not functional’ as in not showing the expected level of activity. ‘Not functional’ as in NO activity. The only electricity in her brain was in her brain stem. In medical terminology, that’s generally referred to as brain dead.

And yet she was wide awake and howling curses at us.

I touched my necklace. “A trillion questions and not a single answer.”

“Sorry,” Henry apologized as he took the pad back. “I know this entire thing is annoying. Nothing about this girl makes any sense.”

“Maybe this is more proof of the theory that she’s using a remote-piloted body?” MC suggested. “If the brain stem could act as an antenna—”

“We’ll deal with all that in morning,” I muttered. “I’m going to sleep now.”

Henry started. “I thought you would want to do one more run on Elizabeth first.”

“Too tired. I’d end up doing something stupid and getting myself killed.” I yawned, stumbling over to the cot I had set up in the corner of the shipping container, not even bothering to make sure the doctor left. “Wake me at dawn.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 161)

Almost all of this is going to be important later, but I know right now it seems sort of random.

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Scene 160 – Curatrix

CURATRIX

ADAM

My phone rang.

I grumbled. It had been less than three hours since my mother called. If it was her again, I swear, I’d tell her something shocking on purpose just to end the conversation early.

This time, I glanced at the caller ID before answering. It wasn’t my mom’s number, but it was one of the family phones. I couldn’t remember which one, since I hadn’t gotten around to entering them into my address book.

I answered with more than a little trepidation. “Hello?”

“Adam? Is that you?”

I sighed in relief. It was just Chris Clemens, my father’s head of security. We might not get along too well, but at least it wasn’t one of my parents.

“Yeah, what’s up?” I had a thought. “Is my mom okay?”

“She’s fine. But that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

I sighed. “You, of all people, are not talking to me about my love life.”

“What? No, not that, I meant your life in that city.”

Oh. Okay, that made a little more sense. “Uh…sure. What, specifically?”

“How are things over there?”

“They’re…fine,” I managed, a bit bewildered by the question. “I guess.”

There was a sigh on the other side of the line. “I’m not very good at being subtle, so I’ll just get straight to the point. Nothing comes out of Domina. The big corporations contract out their services, and people hire them to write programs and do other things that can be sent over the internet. But that’s it. We can’t see the city’s internet from the outside. What little information we have comes from people like Dale, who work for the corporations and get a few minutes to connect to the outside world.”

“Yeah,” I said slowly. “I get that. Knew most of it already.”

I was missing something, and the security chief was clearly pissed about that. “God damn it, do you know how much effort I had to go through just to get your mother a link to your phone? I had to call in favors from a rebel on Shaohao, not to mention a couple guys on Mons Agnes I had hoped never to speak to again. Even then, I’m surprised it worked.”

I kept silent, though internally I was cursing MC. This was definitely her doing.

There was another sigh. “My point is, according to all my sources, you should be dead. Killed by one of the gangs and strung up by your own entrails.”

“If you thought it was so dangerous, why did you let me come in the first place?”

“Have you met your father? He’s all about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and whatnot. He thought this was a perfect opportunity to prove the strength of your Anders blood.”

I frowned at that. “But…he was born rich. Like, stupidly rich.” So was I, obviously, but my parents were pretty good at keeping us at a sane level of spending. Just one house, albeit a pretty big one, and my monthly allowance had been twenty bucks until I was sixteen. My grandparents had been the ones with ten houses, who bought everything within sight.

“Look, I can’t argue with him if he doesn’t want me to. But I made sure to have an extraction team standing by in case of emergency—which is still available, by the way—and took the time to talk to Dale privately a few times. He seemed safe enough.”

That annoyed me. I knew Chris had always had a habit of butting into my private life. It was the job of a head of security, so I couldn’t get too mad. But Dale should have known better. “Then you probably already know more than I could tell you. I’m sure you grilled him like a fish.”

“No, I didn’t. I didn’t have time, and he was pretty tight-lipped anyway. He just said that the gangs were dangerous, but avoidable, and that they didn’t really get near the schools anyway.”

Yeah, because if anybody screwed with children in the city, Necessarius would call in an air strike on their heads. I had heard what happened at Shendilavri. Sure, the ‘Mother Monster’ was a large part of it, but the primary reason Butler had intervened was because of the child slaves.

I couldn’t mention that, though. If I did, that strike team would be here within the hour.

And they’d be dead about five minutes after that.

Chris Clemens would make sure they were all the best of the best. But this was Domina City. They would have no idea what they were walking into.

“That’s basically it,” I managed. “I haven’t had any major fights with the gangs.” I thought about it for a minute. “There was one, but I can’t remember—oh, right, there was a little tussle with some of those vampires, but it was over quickly.”

That would be when we intervened in the Nosferatu civil war, when the stupid ferrets were fighting each other instead of the screamers. And compared to everything else I had been through, it really was just a minor brawl.

“You met the gangs? Actually fought them?” Great, now Chris was interested. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. “Describe them for me.”

“Uh…” I frantically wracked my brain, trying to remember the propaganda. “It was no big deal, really. They’re just a bunch of kids who go out at night.”

“Hmm…”

Crap. Chris might not be quite as good at spotting lies as my mom, but I still needed to tread carefully.

“Look, like I said, it was no big deal. I didn’t even get hurt.” I was careful not to mention that I had killed three or four vamps that night, not counting the zombies. That strike team was still weighing on my mind.

“Well, that’s some good news at least. But I want more on these gangs. I’ve been hearing weird rumblings, about the toy maker.”

I swallowed. “That…military gene mod thing? What about it?”

“You tell me. You mentioned to Sophia that you met Isaac Clarke.” Of course. Mom probably didn’t realize it was important, but Chris… “How did that happen?”

Oh boy. This was going to be tricky. Chris was ex-FBI. In other words, exactly the sort of person Butler did not want knowing about how widespread use of the toy maker was.

“It just came up,” I managed. Okay, what was it that Ling kept saying about lying? Something about telling the truth…that was it. “He has a daughter, Robyn Joan. She’s a friend of my roommate, so…” I shrugged. “I sorta bumped into him.”

“I’m sure.” Didn’t sound so sure. “What did you talk to him about?”

I chuckled. “I didn’t really say anything. I think I managed to get my name out, and then he was rambling about organ rejection and removing necrotic tissue and…uh…what was it? Oh yeah, Anomalous Foreign Tissue Rejection Syndrome.” That was Clarke’s name for lutum informis, more commonly known as being a clay. No one used that name though, and apparently the outside world had a longer one for it that ended in ‘itis.’

Thankfully, Chris didn’t seem any more versed in toy maker terminology than I was. “What exactly is that?”

“How should I know? All I know is I said I wanted wings, and he said no.”

“You wanted wings?”

“Doesn’t everybody?”

“I—well, maybe. But you haven’t seen any use of the toy maker?”

I was going to have to step carefully here. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“I mean what I mean. How much are people using that thing?”

“Well, there’s some minor uses here and there. No big deal.” What had Laura said…damn it, if I had paid more attention to the city’s propaganda before I got here, I’d have an easier time coming up with a decent lie. “Hair color, eye color, getting rid of freckles, that kind of thing.”

“That’s what I thought, but I just wanted to make sure. Don’t want to give your mother a heart attack, after all.”

“No, I understand,” I said, trying to hide my relief that it had been bought. “It’s not exactly paradise over here, but it’s livable.”

“OY! BASELINE!”

I turned around at the sound of someone yelling. What the hell—

Two giants, carrying a couch between them, were hustling down the sidewalk. The one in front was the one yelling.

“Out of the way, boy,” he called. “Coming through.”

Oh, right, I was standing in the middle of the sidewalk. I stepped aside, and the giants nodded in thanks. I murmured a quick apology before turning back to my phone. “Sorry about that. I have to go. Stuff to do.”

“What’s a baseline?”

I felt my heart skip a beat. “What?”

“I heard what they said. What, exactly is a baseline?”

“It’s just a word for—” I couldn’t think of anything.

The voice on the other end of the line was iron-hard. “Adam, if you’ve been lying to me, I swear, I’ll lead the team myself, even if I have to tear that city apart to find you.”

I sighed, giving up. “Yeah, that won’t work.”

“Wait, what?”

I rubbed my forehead. “Look, Chris, I appreciate you trying to watch out for me, I really do. But I’m doing fine over here.”

“Adam, don’t you dare lie to me again—”

“No more lies,” I interrupted. “I’ll say it straight: If you send your team to Domina, the gangs will chew you up and spit you out.”

There was a pause on the other end.

“Good God, you’re serious.”

“As I said, I’M fine. I’ll be home for Christmas and everything. I promise.”

Another sigh. “Well, I can tell you’re not lying now. Of course, that almost certainly means you’re insane.”

“I’m hanging up now. Say hi to my parents for me.”

“Any chance you’ll tell me the truth about the toy maker now?”

“Nope,” I said, and clicked my phone shut.

 

Behind the Scenes (scene 160)

Chris Clemens will be an important character later. Adam did promise to go home for Christmas, after all.

Assuming he’s still alive by then.

Scene 159 – Ars

ARS

LING

Turgay?” I cried incredulously. “Tezuka, what are you doing here?”

‘Here’ was a random street in South Central, a couple miles from AU. There wasn’t really anyone around, but I still wouldn’t have expected to see him just walking about like nothing was wrong. Necessarius was still after him over the toy box.

The ave glanced at the other people—what few of them there were—on the street. “Let’s find somewhere to talk.” He led me down an alley, looking around nervously the whole time. Once we were out of earshot of a surprised maintenance man installing speakers under an eave, I decided we had gone far enough.

“I haven’t seen you in almost two weeks,” I hissed. “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been busy,” he muttered. “Working on that stupid box.” He shook his feathered head. “I’m the only one who can get near the damn thing, because of the damn pheromones. It’s slow going.”

I nodded with false sympathy. “I can imagine. Not to mention hiding from Necessarius, because you practically started a war with them.”

He held up his claws, trying to placate me. “Hey, that’s not my fault! I’m just a researcher!”

“You said you were one of the ones who stole the toy box.”

He rubbed his beak nervously. “I was…on the team. Mostly, I was an adviser. We needed to make sure we grabbed the right thing—”

“I don’t care,” I cut him off. “Guy, with everything that’s going on—the fey, Elizabeth—this isn’t time to be fighting.”

He blinked his big eagle eyes. “Hey, wait, I thought the Composer was captured. And the fey are keeping to themselves for the moment, right?”

I snorted. “Did you watch any of the shows I gave you? The Composer will escape, and the fey are just waiting for the most dramatic moment to strike. It’s just common sense.”

The ave sighed. “That’s not how the universe works, Ling.”

“It is in my experience.”

“Okay, I guess…whatever. I don’t care. Ling, the reason I begged for the afternoon off was because I needed to talk to you.”

That was a bit surprising. Sure, he was one of my best friends, but that was mostly because he hadn’t abandoned me after my sons were born and that whole crapfest. He tended to keep to himself.

“Must be important,” I admitted, even though I wanted to chew him out over the toy box and so on more. “Spill it.”

He rubbed his forehead. “Ling, you need to take a trip.”

I blinked in surprise. “What?”

“Take a trip to the outer city,” he reiterated. “You were born in South Outer, right? Go there. Visit the hospital where you were born. Go fishing. Hook up with a Dagonite. I don’t care. Just get out of here for a while.”

I narrowed my eyes. I knew how this story went. “Turgay, what are the aves planning?”

“Nothing.”

“Don’t lie to me—”

He held up his claws in a placating gesture. “Not…nothing, but nothing to do with you, or the reason you need to leave.” He sighed again. “You need to leave because of Mitchel.”

Ah.

Well. That made sense.

I felt my face become a stone-cold mask. “He burned down our orphanage, Turgay.”

He closed his eyes. “I know. I know.”

“Killed pretty much everyone we know.”

“I understand that, but—”

“What you want me to just let him live?”

“Of course not!” he snapped. “But he’s one of the Composer’s Blackguards! You can’t fight him!”

I yelled right back. “That’s just another reason to fight him! I’m a Paladin, that’s my job.”

“No,” he shook his head. “That’s Huntsman’s job, that’s Akiyama’s job. You are not a fighter. If you go up against these people, you will die.”

Excuse me? I’ll have you know I was instrumental to capturing the Composer last week!”

“Really?” He eyed me skeptically. “I saw your fight on the Ring, remember. She took you out in under a minute.”

I bit back a retort. Okay, so maybe he had a point. But when I had fought the Blackguards, I had killed—

That’s when it hit me.

I had killed one of the renegades who had ambushed me in the alley. I hadn’t had much time to think about it at the time, with the Composer popping up less than five minutes later, but…

I had killed someone.

Yeah, it had been a podbrain, one of those brainwashed slaves who thought they were part of a hive mind. But she was still a person. And unlike the screamers, I couldn’t pretend she had some incurable disease that made it okay.

I lay my head against the wall of the alley, the cool concrete calming me.

“…Ling?” Turgay said slowly. “Are you feeling all right?”

“No,” I muttered. “No, I am not.” I leaned back, looking up at the blue sky far above, a mere sliver peeking through the skyscrapers that dominated the city.

By Osamu Tezuka’s last words, how had it come to this?

I had been one of the lucky ones. In a city of murderers, my hands were clean of blood. Human blood, anyway, which had been more than enough for me. And yet…

When I had been given the opportunity to kill, I had taken it. gladly. Jumped at it.

Part of it had been duty, responsibility, but…

How much of it, really?

Because the same thing was happening again. And this time I couldn’t claim ignorance, or pretend I was burning out a disease or whatever. For the last few days, I had been hunting a man down in order to murder him. There was no way around that.

“I’ll take you up on your offer,” I said finally. “I’ll leave. Soon. I just…”

Turgay waited a moment before responding. “You just…what?”

“I just have to do a few things first. It won’t take long. And also…” I didn’t look at him. “Can you come with me? I mean, I just…I’ll need a friendly face, and…”

“Ling,” he whispered. He put his hand on my shoulder.

No. Not his hand. His claws.

I turned to face him, and saw sadness in his bright golden eyes, in the way his feathers drooped, and the set of his beak.

“I can’t come with you,” he admonished gently. “You know that. Soaring Eagle needs me, and…” he gave me a melancholy smile. “If I run, it won’t take her too long to find me.”

Yeah. He was right about that. And he was right that I should have known that, too.

Looked like I was going to be on my own.

Behind the Scenes (scene 159)

Too many short ones, but I need to replenish my buffer somehow.

Scene 158 – Silentium

SILENTIUM

DEREK

“Does your mom have these kinds of fainting spells often?”

“Not really,” Adam grumbled as he sipped his soda. I had taken him to Nervi’s, but our food hadn’t arrived yet. “I mean, yeah, when we went mountain climbing last year, we had to get airlifted out, and then there was the time when I was a kid that she passed out in the pool…” He shrugged. “Maybe. I guess.”

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” I said. He clearly didn’t want to talk about his family, so I changed the subject. “But I wanted to talk to you about the reason I brought you to the Zero Forge in the first place.”

My roommate winced. “That’s…I’m not really sure what you wanted to see there. It just looked like another factory to me.”

I had wanted him to see the beating heart of the city, the majesty of it. I had wanted him to understand what made Domina tick, both in a very real and philosophical sense.

“Let’s leave that for now.” If he wasn’t getting the message, trying to hammer it into his head wasn’t going to help. I wasn’t sure whether it was because he wasn’t a native, or if it was because he was a sociopath. “Let’s talk about the fey.”

He eyed me wryly. “Are we actually going to talk about them this time, or is this going to turn into another philosophical rant?”

“Hey, I didn’t rant—”

“Sure.”

I cleared my throat, unwilling to concede the point. “Anyway, yes, this seriously is about the fey. You know about their attacks Tuesday, right?”

My roommate nodded. “Of course. The entire city knew five minutes after it happened.”

I didn’t, but anyway…

“And then you said they declared themselves a culture or whatever? I hadn’t heard about that part.”

“Right. But what you might not realize is that the fey have been a bit…quiet since then.”

He took another sip of his drink, frowning. “Didn’t they slaughter everyone that raided their outposts?”

“They fought off most of the attacks, but they only slaughtered one of the teams. We still don’t know exactly how they did it.” I waved my hand. “Anyway, that’s not what I mean. With one exception—Maeve—none of the fey have been seen for three days.”

He bit his lip. “Maeve is…” Then he shook his head. “Yeah, no, I don’t remember which one Maeve is.”

“The Maiden of Winter,” I reminded him. “I can’t remember her full title. Anyway, she only popped up long enough to use a homunculus as a bomb. Other than that, it’s like they’ve disappeared off the map.”

“Is that so odd? It’s only been three days.”

I leaned forward to emphasize my point. “You don’t understand: The fey have always been very big on public appearances. Every district was guaranteed at least two nice, flashy showings each day. Once for Day’s court, and then again for Night’s. There’s been nothing.”

I leaned back and nodded in thanks as Ezio Nervi, Gloria’s son, sauntered over and placed our food on the table with a forced smile.

The smile wasn’t forced because of us. It was just that everyone was still worried about the Composer—even though she had been captured—and adding the fey on top of that…

Everyone was staying inside. It was disturbing, really, seeing the streets pretty much completely empty. Every few minutes I’d see a small cluster of armed civilians rushing by on their way to some destination, but other than that nothing.

Which was the reason the owner of Carne Sandwiches was serving us personally. Not only were we his only customers, but all his help had declined to show up for work today.

Speaking of which, that reminded me. “Adam, is Lily still going to her jobs?”

He nodded. “She said something about setting a good example. Of course, half the places are closed, but that just gives her a little more free time.”

“She’s coming by in about an hour,” Ezio put in, his fangs slurring the words only slightly. He slid into one of the empty seats at the table, which went a long way towards showing just how dead his business was at the moment. “My daughter is supposed to come by at the same time, but considering my other daughter is supposed to be here right now…” He sighed. “Sorry. Been a long day.”

I thought for a second. “Celistina is…thirteen now?”

The ghoul didn’t look up. He just rubbed his forehead, trying to knead out a headache. “Fourteen. She turned just last month.”

“Right, so Rafella is thirteen.”

Adam looked at Ezio a little oddly. “And…how old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

My roommate bit his lip. “So…you were fifteen, sixteen when your oldest was born?”

Ezio finally looked up, a confused expression on his face. “Yeah, so?”

“I’m just a little surprised, is all.”

“Why?”

Adam shrugged and took a bite of his sandwich. “Sixteen is young, that’s all,” he said around the mouthful.

“Sixteen is about the average age for your firstborn,” I noted. “I think it’s closer to fifteen, actually.”

He stared at me. Then he turned to Ezio, who immediately nodded in confirmation.

“That can’t be right,” he muttered, putting down the sandwich. “No one I know has any kids.”

“Sure they do,” I said with a laugh. “You met Simon and Seena, right? Simon has two sons, and Seena has a boy and a girl.”

He blinked, very slowly.

“Then there’s their friend Delphie—have you met Delphie?” He shook his head. “Well, she’s our age too, and she has triplets. Then Jelena—”

“Back on topic,” Adam said quickly, clearly not wanting to hear any more. “What was that about the fey being quiet?”

Ezio looked like he wanted to talk more about kids and so on, but I spoke up before he had a chance. “You’re right, sorry. The point is, the fey must be up to something.”

“Aren’t they always?”

“Well…yeah, but this is something new. They’re a culture now. Apparently.”

My roommate nodded. “Fair enough. So, what’s the plan?”

I thought about it for a minute. I hadn’t spoken with any warlords about it directly, but I could make some reasonable assumptions. “Attacking them outright didn’t work, and got a lot of people killed.” I winced. “So I guess…just wait and see?”

Adam rolled his eyes and took another bite of his sandwich. “Inspired.”

 

Behind the Scenes (scene 158)

Short, yes, but an unfortunate necessity.