Everything about Silk disturbed me greatly.
I had thought I was used to Elizabeth. A cackling monster, a walking bloodthirsty stereotype hiding under an extremely convincing facade of friendliness and stupidity.
So when her sister strolled up, all smiles and as helpful as could be, I was more than a little wary. It was a trick. It was obviously, undoubtedly a trick. There was nothing else in the entire world it could be.
But every word she spoke passed my lie detection ability with flying colors. And unlike Elizabeth, she wasn’t dodging the questions or twisting the words to confuse the issue. As far as I could tell, she was just actually, genuinely telling the whole and absolute truth.
It rubbed me entirely the wrong way.
Who had ever heard of an enemy who just walks into your base, takes out your heavy hitter, and cheerfully gives you everything you could possibly want? Okay, not everything, but far, far more than I would have expected.
She claimed she wasn’t our enemy, and she seemed perfectly friendly. But every single instinct screamed at me not to trust her. To pull out my gun and shoot her, then lock her away somewhere and throw away the key.
But I had seen her casual defeat of Akane. I had very little doubt that she would be able to take out everyone in NHQ without much more difficulty.
As our little party walked through the halls of Necessarius, minor soldiers and functionaries dodged away from us like rats before a flame. Doors slammed in our wake, dropped papers people were too slow to collect abandoned… the rumors would be flying thick and fast, but no matter what the truth was, everyone knew better than to get in our way.
Silk slid up to me with a smile. “Something wrong, Highlander? You seem distracted.”
Her voice… her voice was exactly like Lizzy’s. Elizabeth’s. Warm as melted chocolate. But there was something else there. Something genuine, perhaps? Or was she just a better actress than her clone?
“I’m fine,” I said through gritted teeth.
She tsked lightly. “Now, now, a truthteller shouldn’t lie.” She winked with a good-natured golden eye. “Old saying from my home galaxy.”
I had a feeling she was trying to draw me into a conversation, giving me hints she knew I’d latch on to. “That’s nice.”
“I understand that my presence is unsettling,” she admitted slowly. “But I wanted to be sure not to mislead you all in any way. And while my face does have an upsetting association with Elizabeth’s, it is mine. It was important I bear it.”
I grit my teeth. “That’s nice.”
“And as for your relationship with the little hero—”
“Look,” I interrupted, still not turning in her direction. “I kept my mouth shut during our little interview. But I don’t trust you, and we’re giving you the most dangerous person on the planet. So just shut up before I decide to chain you up and use you for target practice.”
Then, after a moment, there was a gentle hand on my shoulder. Silk didn’t say anything though, just gave me that brief touch of encouragement and then increased her pace to meet up with Doctor Clarke and Butler a few feet ahead.
Once again, her actions didn’t make much sense. She must have been manipulating me, but it certainly felt genuine, like a friend accepting that I needed some personal space and granting it. Though that was the point, I suppose.
It wasn’t much longer before we reached the cold room, one of Clarke’s specialized labs under the fortress itself. Normally, this was where he kept monsters and limbs with odd toys or mutations on ice, where he could study them at his leisure. It also had a small chemical factory attached, but nowhere near as large scale as Zero Forge, or even the sulfur foundries of Dis.
Now, it played host to Elizabeth Greene.
She had been dragged over from Zero Forge complete with the liquid nitrogen vat Adam had dropped her into. No one had wanted to risk pulling her out for even a second. Once we got her here, though, we had some other options.
Now, while the vat was still there, we had cooled it enough so that the nitrogen was now a solid block. As I had done every time I came down here previously, I immediately crossed over to the nearest control panel and double-checked the numbers. Nitrogen melted at 63.15 degrees Kelvin, and boiled into gas at 73.355 Kelvin. We were keeping it as cold as possible.
As always, the instruments read it as holding solid at 27.9 degrees above absolute zero. I would certainly have preferred for it to drop about twenty-seven degrees, but this was the coldest we could reasonably keep it. Even like this, no one could get within ten yards of the thing without getting frostbite.
Adam peered through the mists caused by the unspeakable cold, trying to get a good look at the vague shape in the mist. “I see… something.” His breath fogged as he spoke. “Please tell me that’s her.”
“I have a camera that can give us a clearer picture—” MC began, even as she sent the feed to the display I was standing next to.
Silk didn’t even look at it. “It’s her,” she insisted, stepping forward and placing her bare hand on the metal side of the vat as she gazed past it into the ice. It should have ruptured her skin as all her blood froze and burst her veins, but she didn’t even seem to notice. “You finally managed to slow her down, tin man.”
Adam crossed his arms over his chest and glared in her direction. “Was that referring to me? I do have a name, you know.”
Silk strode back out of the mist, apparently none the worse for wear despite entering an area only a few dozens degrees warmer than deep space in nothing but a thin black dress. In fact, she was grinning.
“I’ll tell you what,” she said to Adam, still smiling. “In recognition of your impressive achievements regarding my sister, I will grant you one wish.” Her golden eyes twinkled like stars. “Just name your price. I will not give you anything, but merely asking will not use up your wish.”
I frowned. Every stupid story I had ever heard about genies and the consequences of dealing with them was springing to mind. Depending on what Adam asked for, she could screw with us in a million ways and more. I glanced at him.
He just chuckled. “So, what, if I asked for a billion dollars, you wouldn’t be offended?”
“Of course not,” the tall woman, cloaked by the mists of the machine, replied smoothly. “Is that your wish?”
Adam blinked. “You… could do that?”
“Please. That’s not even mildly difficult.” She nodded at Butler. “Hunter could do it. Though it would put a larger dent in his coffers.”
There was a pause.
“And… what if I asked to no longer be a clay? To be made able to use the toy maker?”
“Is that your wish?”
“If… I wanted to be… ” He seemed to be thinking as hard as he could, to come up with something that would offend her. I had a few ideas, but he didn’t have the same mind for cruelty I did. “…immortal. Like you and Elizabeth.”
Silk did not so much as blink. “Is that your wish?”
Another, much longer pause.
“Can I think about this?” Adam asked quietly.
Silk nodded politely. “This offer does not expire. Take as long as you like.”
A little shaken, Adam nodded in thanks.
“Miss Medina,” Butler grunted. “Let’s please get this done.”
I coughed. “All right. There are four passkeys that will need to be put in simultaneously. I have one, MC has another, and Butler and Doctor Clarke have the others. It should take about half an hour to fully thaw her out. Most of the equipment will be fried in the process, though.”
Silk clicked her tongue. “Oh, you people insist on complicating everything. Let me handle it.”
“Handle it? What do you mean, handle—”
Fire belched forth from her hand.
Even though I was only standing a couple feet away from the white-hot flame, I could barely feel more than the slightest tinge of heat. The mist in the room fled away from the golden woman, with the cone of fire stretching in front of her like a dragon’s breath, but that was all.
Except for the effect on the target, of course.
The metal vat filled with nitrogen ice, one of the coldest materials we could conceive of, melted before Silk’s onslaught like an ordinary ice cube tossed into a bonfire. In less than a second, the vat was gone. Not even liquid, gas, already steaming away into nothingness though the vents in the ceiling as I watched. I covered my mouth and stepped back in case the metal got into my lungs.
In moments, the only thing indicating that the block had ever been there were a few small black flakes of ash, spinning gently in the slight breeze of the room. Even now, they were beginning to float down to the floor.
But before they had the chance to hit the ground, they began to move.
They clumped together as if drawn by a magnet, creating a tiny black ball of ash. Within moments, that ball began expanding and gaining color. Faster than I had ever seen before, I saw the white of bone, the red of muscles, and finally the bronze, all building on top of each other like a three dimensional painting, being made layer by layer.
And then, there was Elizabeth Greene, standing naked in the center of the cold room.
She saw Adam, and she immediately stepped forward, her face contorted with rage.
“Elizabeth,” Silk said calmly.
The naked girl stopped dead.
She turned, ever so slowly, to see her twin standing there, as coolly as if they had just run into each other at the convenience store. Seeing them standing next to each other, it was easy to tell the difference between the two—and not just because of the clothes. Silk stood with the regal bearing of a goddess, an entity who knew from experience that she had nothing to fear. Elizabeth was half-crouched like a wild animal, ready to attack at any moment.
“Silk,” the naked girl whispered softly in shock. To my surprise, she immediately fell out of her attack stance, clasped her hands in front of her, and bowed her head before her obvious superior. “Geesmasni Iar, Dagrienpa ojpa’Silk. Itenpa leis Ipa sangli—”
“Gel,” her sister answered.
Elizabeth blinked in disbelief. “Gel?”
“Gelmasni,” Silk amended.
“D-dagrienpa,” Elizabeth said, pointing at Adam. “Ipa sangli—”
“I kalb-dra gel.” Silk snapped her fingers, and before Elizabeth could object any further, the naked golden woman was gone. Just disappeared, as easy as… well, as easy as snapping your fingers, I suppose.
There was a long, long pause.
“…what just happened?” MC said after a moment.
Silk sighed. “She wanted permission to kill you all. I said no, and when she insisted, I teleported her under Mount St. Helens. It will take her a while to crawl her way out of there.”
“Was that your plan this entire time?” Butler demanded.
Silk made a face. “Well, I was hoping for both of us to walk out of here peacefully, but I will not pretend that I did not anticipate this ending.” She nodded to him in thanks. “Suffice it to say, you will not be dealing with Elizabeth Greene or her renegades any time soon. Good day.”
And then she was gone, leaving only a quiet riff of song to mark her departure.
Everything about Silk disturbed me greatly.
Behind the Scenes (scene 234)
Once again, the language Silk and Elizabeth use here is one I invented, so don’t bother trying to translate it. Though for the record, “Dagrienpa” is a female-only honorific that translates roughly to “Honored.” The male version is Dagriensa. Oh, and “gel” (“no”) is pronounced with a hard g.