Kelly leaned back in her seat, groaning slightly. “Couldn’t we do this some other time?”
George grunted with effort. “Maybe stop complaining, boss. You’re not the one who has to row this stupid paddle boat across Whitecap Bay!”
We were currently headed to North Fusion island, the site of one of the city’s four great fusion generators, and supposedly the hiding place of Adele’s brother, who might know something about Ling.
And for some reason, we were making the journey in a tiny little boat that had no power source other than me and George.
“Why…exactly…” I gulped down breaths of air. “Are…we the ones paddling?”
“George is the strongest,” Kelly said in a bored tone, covering her eyes against the sun with one hand, even though she was already wearing her daygoggles. “It’s only logical for him to be paddling.”
“You need exercise. Get some muscles on your bones.”
“Builds character, too.”
The vampire looked up, eyebrows raised. “Did you learn Romanian just to insult me?”
“Huh. I probably shouldn’t be impressed.”
“Please stop flirting,” Adele, sitting cross-legged at the front of the boat. “We’re almost there.”
I didn’t bother to correct her accusation. “About…the paddling…”
“A speedboat to the Fusion Islands would attract too much attention,” the angel answered before I could finish. “The ‘sarians guarding the generator are notoriously paranoid, and liable to shoot a missile at us without checking to see if we’re authorized first. My brother has a similar mindset, though he’s more likely to run and hide than kill us. Not to mention, there are also the Dagonites to worry about.”
“Plus, it builds character.”
The angel turned and grinned at me. “Oh, you’ve picked up some Hebrew, too? You are impressive, aren’t you?”
“He’s only got a few of the simpler swear words,” Jarasax noted idly as he checked something on his phone. “Not even the fun ones.”
“Shut…up…you…stupid…” I took in another few breaths, trying to think.
“Mac soith is probably what you’re looking for,” he said, unconcerned.
“He doesn’t need any more swear words,” Kelly grunted.
Before I could manage to articulate a response—preferably using what little Romanian I knew—Adele spoke up. “We’re here. Everyone, get ready.”
I turned to look behind me, in the direction we were traveling, and saw North Fusion island for the first time.
It didn’t really look all that impressive. It was an artificial island like Domina itself, but on a far smaller scale—a hundred, maybe three hundred feet wide at the most, with a small band of beach around it, built from gray pebbles and stones.
On the actual island was a two or three story building, with a few pipes and similar high-tech machinery connected to it. That would be the fusion generator itself; the power lines to the city went underground, and came out under the water. It was the only feature worth noting on the small, flat island.
Other than the space cannon, of course.
I almost didn’t see it at first. It was an angular, streamlined design, built with the ability to fold down into a recess at the back of the island, where it was both inconspicuous and probably easier to load.
If the thing fired at this range, we would probably all be instantly deafened. The retinue and Adele would be right as rain in a day or two, but I would take longer. I had no idea how long it would take for the toy box to fix something like that for me, if it even could. Not something I wanted to test if I didn’t have to. Luckily, it was long past noon, when the cannons fired their payloads up to the waiting space stations and colonies. We’d be fine.
We pulled onto the beach, the hull making a crunching sound as it scraped again the pebbles, and Kelly and Sax quickly jumped out to push the boat out of the way of the gentle tide.
I just dropped the paddles and lay there for a moment, exhausted. The sound of the waves, splashing against the shore, almost lulled me to sleep, but the jolting movement of the boat and the sharp taste of salt in the air—sharper than usual in Domina, anyway—kept me awake.
Once I had my breath back, I took another glance around the island, trying to pin down what was bugging me. “I’m not really seeing any…caves, or anything. Lucifer, where’s this brother of yours?”
“We’ll ask the scientists,” she said, holding up her arms in a peaceful gesture. “Just be quiet for now.”
I gave her an odd look before popping open my gun case to make sure it wasn’t waterlogged. “Sure, whatever. Remember we’re not here for chatting, we need to—
Suddenly I was face first on the beach, my arm twisted behind my back and my face ground into the rounded pebbles of the shore.
I tried to yell, but just got a mouthful of salty rocks for my trouble.
“Stop struggling, Anders,” Kelly called in a bored tone. “They only grabbed you because you were playing with your guns.”
I wasn’t playing with—
My captor shoved me into the ground harder, and I finally got the hint and stopped fighting quite so much.
“Kepler says let the boy up,” a gruff voice ordered. “MC called. They’re authorized.”
My captor released me—though not before giving me one last shove—and I pulled myself to my feet slowly, making no sudden moves, before looking around at the soldiers who had ambushed us.
There were over a dozen of them, and they were definitely Necessarians. High-quality weapons and armor expected of elite troops, with the red and black band on their shoulders marking them as belonging to the biggest gang in the city. Their black-painted ceramic armor covered simple civilian clothes; Butler wasn’t big on uniforms, so most of his men chose to wear jeans and t-shirts under whatever equipment they were issued.
The one who was in charge—I couldn’t read his rank insignia, but the others clearly deferred to him—eyed me warily before turning to Adele. “Honored Daybreaker. Apologies for the rough welcome. Between you and the maintenance men installing the new speakers, it’s been a busy day for us. What can we help you with?”
“I’ll get straight to the point, Captain.” Ah, so that was his rank. “Apparently, my brother is squatting on a cave on this island somewhere. Have you seen or heard anything odd—”
“He’s on the east side of the island,” the captain interrupted. “The entrance is pretty small, but the cave itself was uncovered while building the underground portions of the facility, and is large enough. I can show you to him now, if you like.”
The angel blinked in surprise. “I’m…sorry, I didn’t expect you to be…I didn’t think you even knew he was here.”
“He’s not really hiding from us. He knocked on the door and introduced himself, first day he got here.” The soldier grinned. “Brought a fruit basket.”
Adele sighed. “Yes, that sounds like my brother. Well…lead on, if you would.”
It didn’t take long to find the cave, though if the soldiers hadn’t known what we were looking for, I doubt we would have ever found it. It wasn’t even a cave, really, just sort of a hole in the ground, with a lip of stone on the shore side that would keep out the tides.
“We’re going back to our patrol,” the captain said curtly. The soldiers left without another word.
“Fricken’ Fusion Guards,” Kelly muttered. “My dad had better manners.” She pulled her daygoggles off, wincing, and peered into the hole. “Looks like it widens out as it gets deeper.”
“I should hope so.” I opened my gun case, pulled out my pistol, and holstered it just in case. “Do you think it’s big enough for all six of us?”
“Probably. George should still go first, though.”
The giant nodded, and moved forward obediently, clambering down the pit very carefully, making sure he had solid footing with each and every step. It didn’t take long for him to disappear from sight, and only a moment after that that we heard his feet hit something solid.
“I think it’s big enough for everyone,” he called up. “The walls aren’t wet or slippery, but still be careful.”
We all made it down easily enough—Alex slipped, but the giant caught her—to find ourselves in a small cave, maybe ten feet wide and tall, running forward maybe a dozen feet before taking a sharp left turn. I thought it was suspiciously dry for a cave, especially one so close to the waterline, before I spotted a few small drainage grates in the corners.
I pulled out my pistol; I didn’t like this place. “Adele, is your brother the type to use traps?”
The angel rubbed her forehead. “I doubt you have to worry about anything. He doesn’t have many enemies, so if anyone comes after him, it will be angels.” She waved her hand. “You can already see that trap.”
I looked around, but didn’t see anything. “Uh…what?”
“It’s dark. If an angel starts glowing, he’ll notice.”
“Ah. Well, none of that then, you two.” I nodded at Kelly. “Our vampire can guide us just fine.” For crying out loud, even I could have guided us. It wasn’t really that dark in the cave, it just didn’t have any extra lights.
We pressed on, with Kelly in front, George and Sax in the back, me shadowing Kelly, and the angels in the middle. Adele had forgotten her nightvision goggles, so she had to hold Alex’s hand to walk safely.
I expected to run into a twisting maze of underground passages, but it was nothing of the sort. The caves—which were blatantly man-made, judging by the strong right angles of the corners—took a few more sharp turns, but there was always only one option, so there was little chance of getting lost.
However, with each turn, the reflected light from the entrance became dimmer and dimmer, until we were all holding onto one another, with Kelly in the front leading a chain of blind idiots. If this guy decided to attack right now, we were all dead, and that was the end of it.
I jumped so high at the unexpected voice that I think my head might have hit the ceiling.
“I found Grigorii,” Kelly deadpanned. “By the way, we’re in a bigger cave now.”
“Dawn and saints and darkened Heavens—Greg, turn on the stupid lights.”
“Sis? That you? One sec, it’s around here somewhere…”
I heard the sound of someone scrambling around the room, searching for something, and only remembered at the last second to cover my eyes before the lights came on. Judging from the curses from George and Jarasax, not everyone had taken the same precaution.
“Sorry about that,” the speaker, a small man over by a light switch on the far wall, said.
It took me a second to even realize he was an angel—sure, he had the dayskin tattoos on his face and hands, but those were the only parts of him I could see. He was wearing a light blue bathrobe that covered the rest of his body pretty completely. It was…an odd choice of clothing for an angel. They usually preferred to show as much skin as possible, so they could get the most bang for their buck out of their daybreaks.
“Sorry,” he apologized again. “Haven’t really been…” He trailed off, trying to tidy up the dusty cave—empty except for a plastic table, a few matching chairs, a fridge in the corner, and empty snack bags everywhere—without meeting anyone’s eyes. “…sorry.”
His sister looked around the small room with obvious disdain. “Please tell me you aren’t sleeping in here. Grandpa will rise from his grave and strangle me if you aren’t sleeping in some kind of bed.”
He waved his hand again. “Of course, of course. Secret door in the wall, leads to the bedroom, bathroom, and server room.” He paused. “Ah, those are all separate rooms.”
Adele frowned. “Greg, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you looking at me?”
“What? Nothing. No reason. I’m, uh…just…mad that you didn’t call first. Yes, that’s it…”
The feminine angel rubbed her forehead. “You don’t have a phone. You said they were baby-killing cancer machines.”
“I never said I didn’t own one of those baby-killing cancer machines anyway.”
Kelly cocked her head at the strange angel. “No, don’t change the subject, Adele had a point. You’re not meeting anyone’s eyes.”
“Greg,” Adele said in a low voice. “What did you do to your eyes?”
“Okay sis, what you need to understand is that I had all theoretical probabilities accounted for, and according to my calculations it was perfectly safe—”
“Saints ABOVE!” she shrieked, stumbling back. “You, I—WHAT DID YOU DO!?”
He had no eyes.
Just two scarred pits in his skull, staring out at us like a pair of black holes.
It was bad—okay, it was really bad, and I was feeling a little queasy from just looking at it—but I had seen worse stuff during the cleanup after the skins incident. “I don’t know too much about the toy maker, but I’m guessing growing new eyeballs is out of reach?”
He nodded, once.
“O—kaay…um, right.” I scratched my forehead. The others didn’t really look like they knew what to say either, and Adele was green enough I was pretty sure she was going to actually retch soon. “So…how can you see?”
“Echolocation,” he muttered, not looking at his sister. “There are subsonic pulse units built into the walls, that give a constant feed to a small cybernetic implant in the back of my head. Gives a pretty good 3D image of the tunnels. No color, obviously, but…”
That seemed unnecessarily complex. “Why not just use cameras?”
“The implant for that was way too big. I mean, I could, it just takes more processing power than I feel comfortable shoving into my skull.”
“Oh. What about when you leave the tunnels?”
“Well, I don’t, really.” He shrugged. “I have a portable sonar unit, but the picture is fuzzy, and kemos get annoyed at the sound.”
“Some vampires, too,” Kelly grumbled.
The angel grinned. “Uh, yeah. Anyone with ears enhanced over a certain threshold.”
“You still haven’t explained what you did to your eyes,” Adele growled.
Her brother shrugged. “Isn’t it obvious? I removed them. They weren’t working.”
“Why weren’t they working, Greg?”
He shuffled on his feet. “Well, as you know, I am a professional information broker.”
“Who never sells any info,” Alex noted.
Grigorii Gabriel continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “I managed to intercept some of the Mother Monster’s data dumps to Clarke—”
Jarasax put his hand on his gun, still in its holster. “You what?”
“Oh, calm down, changeling. She’s never really cared who knows her secrets. Anyway, most of it was not particularly useful to me—” He waved his hand dismissively. “Some details about poison glands in her mouth, irregularities with her heart, so on. But her eyes—”
Adele sighed deeply. “You tried to give yourself godeyes.”
Godeyes. I had heard of them, of course, from Lily. The pinnacle of Clarke’s science, a combination of the angels’ dayeyes and the vampires’ nighteyes, they gave the ability to see absolutely perfectly in any light, from so close to pitch black you thought there was literally zero light, to staring straight at the sun.
I didn’t pretend to understand the science of it, but apparently combining the two was like mixing an acid and a base. It just didn’t work without a lot of time, effort, and money, and even then usually ended with the patient blind. Only two people had ever done it successfully: The ‘Mother,’ and the warlord of the Draculas.
“Wait one second here,” George said, raising a finger. “I’m far from an expert, but I know a few people on the bad side of a godeyes attempt. None of them actually physically lost their eyes. It’s a lot of damage, yeah, but the toy maker can fix it.”
“Yeah, well, mine went bad.”
Adele glared at him. “How bad?”
Her brother just pointed at his empty eye sockets.
“No, George is right,” Alex said slowly. “Any competent doctor should have been able to fix—” She closed her own eyes as realization dawned. “Oh, you idiot.”
Adele turned to the other angel, a confused look on her face. “Yeah, he’s an idiot. What’s new about that?”
“He tried to give himself godeyes,” Alex deadpanned.
“…yes?” I said slowly. “Welcome to five minutes ago.”
“No. He tried to give himself godeyes.”
We all slowly turned back to Grigorii as the full implications of that sunk in.
“Heh,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “Yeah. Not my smartest move, right?”
His sister was not amused. “YOU TRIED TO PERFORM SURGERY ON YOURSELF!? WHAT IN THE LIGHTLESS NIGHT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?”
He winced. “Not so loud, sis, ow.”
She stomped forward, grabbed her brother by the ear, and yanked him closer to her face. “It took twenty of the best doctors in the city to give the Dragon his eyes, and you thought you could do it by yourself, to yourself!?”
“I had—ow—information he never did! It seemed simple enough!”
“IT REQUIRES PULLING THE EYES OUT OF YOUR SKULL AND DOING PRECISION SURGERY ON THEM WHILE THEY ARE MUTATED BY THE TOY MAKER!”
“Um…” I said. “We were here for a reason—”
“Shut up!” Adele snapped. “Greg, you—”
“You’re here for a reason?” the blind angel chirped excitedly. I couldn’t tell if he was genuinely excited that I might need something from him, or if he was just happy to have an excuse to dodge his sister. He shook himself out of her grip with practiced ease. “Well, what is it?”
“It’s…” Behind him, Adele was struggling to grab her brother and wring his neck, but George held her back. “It’s a friend. She was kidnapped, we think by the aves, October 21st. That’s the Sunday before last. We haven’t been able to find her.”
“Anders, SHUT YOUR MOUTH! I’M NOT DONE YET!”
We both ignored her, while Kelly and George struggled with her. “Hm. Interesting.” The blind angel scratched his head. “The obvious solution is to talk to the aves still in G’Hanir, but Butler took the ‘scraper a week ago, so you’d have already tried that…besides, they’ve largely split off from the Soaring Eagle’s group anyway.”
“Exactly.” At least he seemed well-informed. “So can you help?”
Grigorii made a face. “…maybe. I can give you a few leads, at least.” He fished a pad out of his bathrobes, tapping at it. It made a surprising number of squawks and beeps, which I belatedly realized were probably for the benefit of his sonar devices. “Soaring Eagle’s core group is extremely loyal, so I haven’t managed to suborn any of them.”
“Uh,” I interrupted. “Not sure I understand that word.” I quickly amended the question, to keep from sounding stupid. “In this context, that is.”
He smiled a little. “Of course. I just mean get them over to my side. Usually, that means bribes or blackmail.” He shrugged. “Like I said, the core birds are loyal. They won’t even tell me little things, like what district they’re going to next, or when they’re leaving the current one.”
Adele, who had calmed down by this point—but was still being held carefully by George—stared at her brother. “No info at all? Seriously? Are you sure you’re doing it right?”
The information broker in question sighed. “Yes, I am, thank you very much. I am not the one who slept through Pistis Sophia’s espionage classes.”
“I never attended those classes.”
“Because you were at home, sleeping.”
“Anyway,” Kelly interrupted before the siblings could get into another full-fledged argument. “We’re looking for a blonde baseline girl named Ling Yu.”
Grigorii turned to her in surprise. “Wait, the stoneshaper Paladin? She’s the one you’re looking for?”
I blinked. “You…know her?”
“You guys haven’t been doing a very good at keeping yourselves secret,” he noted, looking thoughtful. “Anyone with access to a Beta-level Necessarian security pass knows, and not all of them are immune to bribes.”
The full implication of what he had just said sunk in. “Wait, you know who I am—”
“But I didn’t know she had gone missing,” he muttered, ignoring me. “Yes, that does explain the increased activity over the past few days…I assumed it was just because of that thing with the fey…”
I was starting to get impatient. “Look, if you can’t help us, that’s fine, just—”
He held up a single finger and tutted at me. “Hardly. I can determine Soaring Eagle’s most likely hiding places—I assume she took the Paladin personally?—but it will take a day or two to collate all the data.”
“Send it to MC when you’re done,” Kelly ordered. “If you don’t want her to get a look at your network, carry it over to the lab by hand and have them send it. I’ll tell them to expect you.”
The angel nodded. “Good, yes, perfect, that should do it.”
At least this was over. I turned to leave, before stopping as I realized something.
I turned back to Adele’s brother. “We need to arrange for payment. What’s you price?”
He thought about it. “Normally for something like this? A hundred thousand. But considering that you kept her—” he jerked his thumb at his sister, who glared at him but didn’t otherwise react. “—from killing me, not to mention the safety of a Paladin directly relates to the safety of the city itself…”
“This one’s on the house.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 201)
Note that unlike most full angels, Grigorii never did get around to the operation to remove his reproductive organs. It just never seemed like the right time, what with his mother’s funeral, then his father’s funeral, then his brother’s and sister’s and uncle’s…and then the other angels found out from Adele that they had never had any living family members, and he was just making up excuses to get out of it. That would be when he fled the culture.