Monthly Archives: May 2017

Scene 317 – Bellum Parat

BELLUM PARAT

AKANE

It was January 8th. The alien ship had been hovering in our skies for a full day now, ignoring all communications. It wasn’t in a geosynchronous orbit, though, so it had drifted away from Domina and was now somewhere over New York. But still, it was an unspeakable danger to anyone and everyone. Nothing could be left to chance.

So, we trained.

Another two of my kensei collapsed, the exhaustion of constant sword practice too much for them. From my perspective, they appeared to go from normal speed to moving in slow motion, taking minutes to fall to the ground.

I continued going through the forms with the remainder, until two more fell. That left only four left, out of a group of twenty. I wiped the sweat from my forehead, then motioned for everyone to stop. I made sure to wait until they had all turned off their speed until I did the same.

“Drink,” I said, pointing at a table filled with sports drinks. “Rest. We’ll start again soon.”

Everyone groaned, but reluctantly filed over to the table. I stayed back and let them go first. I needed to present a strong front and not look like I was taking advantage of my position. Besides, I wasn’t as tired as them. Overusing your power didn’t quite exhaust you physically, but it did exhaust you. Drain your reservoir too much, too fast, and it would regenerate slower.

We had also discovered that a reservoir would regenerate faster if you were well-rested and healthier. Between the speed training and the sword training, my kensei would be regenerating at a trickle soon. The drinks would help, but part of the point of this exercise was to push them to their very limits.

I didn’t push too hard, though. My own training had been harsh, and I remembered the nights I had lain awake dreaming of killing my instructor. I would prefer my kensei didn’t think of me that way. Some of the more advanced kensei took on the role of harsher teacher when necessary.

Thankfully, it rarely was. All of my students were tough, driven people. The truly lazy rarely survived long in Domina City, and the ones not up to par had given up shortly after I formed the kensei in the first place. I was left with a group of sharp blades, the best weapons I could ask for.

I looked down at the sword in my hand. It was a bokken, a wooden practice sword. I had been using it to practice and instruct, but it wasn’t a real weapon. I needed a new one soon. Flynn had promised a ‘surprise,’ which I was dreading a little bit. I wasn’t good at receiving gifts. I never knew what to say.

Just as I was about to order my kensei back to practice, the door to the gym opened and a crowd of ‘sarians walked in. They were dressed in simple exercise clothes, and there was a familiar face leading them.

“Adam,” I said in surprise. I walked over to him and met him halfway. “I thought you were still in New York.”

He smiled. “Came back today. There’s only so long I can listen to my parents freaking out.”

“Over the aliens, or Domina?”

“Both, unfortunately.”

I rolled my eyes. I knew a thing or two about problematic parents. “What about Lily? Did she stay?”

“She’s coming back with the ambassadors tomorrow.”

I frowned. “Are they leaving anyone behind?”

“Maybe. The changelings mentioned something about it, which made the fey say they were going to leave a few homunculi…” He sighed. “Politics. Not fun.” He shook his head to clear it. “Anyway. You’re training for the aliens?”

“The para, they’re called,” I said. “Derek heard it—”

“From Silk, I know,” he said. “Lily heard it from her, too.”

I raised an eyebrow. “She visited Lily?”

He pursed his lips. “That’s… her secret. Let’s just go with sort of for now.” He forced a smile onto his face. “But I didn’t come here to talk your ear off.” He jerked a thumb at the Necessarians behind him. “I was wondering if my boys could train with yours.”

I looked past him. The ‘sarians were an eclectic bunch, as always, with roughly equal numbers of each culture represented. I even saw a few that I thought were feyborn, but it was hard to say. No dragons, though.

A few of them in the back had large duffle bags that they had set on the ground. Those most be their famous backpacks.

“Your CS squads?” I asked.

He nodded. “I figured it was a good idea. Your kensei are one of the biggest guilds in the city. They’ll be on the front lines of any fighting.”

“Yes,” I said, looking at him curiously. “That’s why I’m training them. What’s your point?”

He smirked ruefully. “My point is that we don’t know what these para are capable of. They might have powers, or counter-song.”

I blinked in surprise. I honestly hadn’t considered that. No, more than that—it literally had not occurred to me. I had just assumed that powers were completely unique to Domina. I couldn’t remember if Silk said anything about aliens having powers. Probably not.

Finally, I nodded. “Fair. Good training for both groups.” I tapped my sword hilt against my chin. “The devices are not single-target.”

Adam frowned for a second, but then his face cleared. “Ah, I see—you want to have them pair off with the kensei, see if the kensei can practice disabling the devices. That’s not an option, like you said. One CS device will cover this whole room. I think we’ll have to split them into teams.”

I nodded. “Good. Prepare your men.” I turned and walked back over to my kensei.

It didn’t take long to set everything up. Adam and I had similar training styles; Derek had called in some of our old teachers to help Adam, back in the beginning. We had both done team exercises like this before, though never against another guild.

Were the CS squads a guild? They didn’t have any unifying power, just the opposite. Ah, whatever.

The first battle proved embarrassing for both sides. My kensei were almost useless without their powers, with one or two exceptions—most of them had never touched a sword before they got their speed. The CS squads, on the other hand, weren’t used to fighting against a coordinated force, and it showed. They circled up, backs to each other, like they were fighting animals. A few kensei got inside and did quite a bit of simulated damage before they were taken out.

Eventually, Adam called a stop. His boys had won, but they didn’t look like it. Half of them were out, and the survivors had their eyes down. They knew that they had messed up pretty badly. My kensei looked even worse. They stood in a line, straight-backed but not looking at anything, just waiting for punishment.

Before I could figure out what to say, the door opened again and Flynn poked his head in. He glanced at the two groups. “Is this a bad time?”

“No,” I said. I nodded to Adam, and he nodded in turn. He’d cover yelling at both groups.

I walked over to Flynn and stepped outside with him, into one of the identical hallways of NHQ. I smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “What is it?”

He grinned. “It’s done.”

I frowned. “What are you—” My eyes went wide. “The sword?”

He nodded and picked up a long, thin box that he had left next to the door. He held it out to me with both hands. “Here. Open it.”

I hesitated, but slowly reached out and lifted the top off the box. Inside, nestled in red velvet was a beautiful katana that seemed to shine in the light. It had a subtle curve to the blade and a very small guard above the hilt, which was wrapped in a silk braid. The silk was red as blood—or, more accurately, as red as the Akiyama name.

Hesitantly, I reached in and gripped the hilt. After a deep breath, I pulled the sword out in a single motion. The grip fit my hand perfectly, and the blade seemed to sing. Just a tiny bit, but I knew it was there.

“It’s wonderful,” I whispered. I adjusted my grip—still perfect.

“I was inspired by your stories of the Unmei no Kazi,” Flynn said.

I raised an eyebrow. “You went to Japan to dig up my family’s ancestral blade?” The name was based on the Akiyama family motto. Well, one of them. ‘You cannot question the winds of fate.’ Definitely one of the more pretentious ones.

He chuckled. “Well, now I feel inadequate. No, I didn’t do that. I wouldn’t have known where to start looking. I just meant I thought you should have a sword that would last. Something you could give to your children.”

My heart skipped a beat, but he didn’t seem to notice the implications. “I don’t know what to say.”

He winced a little. “Well… don’t praise me just yet. I wanted to let you name it yourself, but Elrond insisted.”

I frowned. “Elrond.”

“Yes, the guy who thinks he’s an elf. But he really is an excellent swordsmith, so he made this. Or, her, rather.” He nodded to the blade.

I held it up in front of me. I hadn’t been able to see before with the light shining off it, but it had an inscription.

Corvus Reginae,” I said.

“Elrond said it means ‘Queen of Ravens.’” Flynn shrugged, a little uncomfortable. “I have no idea if that’s accurate. My Latin class got attacked by dumpster dogs. But it certainly sounds good, right?”

I smiled. “It’s perfect. Thank you.” I pulled the sheathe from the box. It was plain black, except for a single long red line that ran along its entire length like a spine. Simple and elegant. I liked it.

Flynn smiled back. “I didn’t understand everything Elrond said, but the entire sword is made out of that amorphous metal stuff. It’s practically unbreakable, and shouldn’t need to be sharpened. Rust attacks will still kill it, though, so stay away from Elizabeth and anyone with that same power.”

I nodded. That was fair. From what Laura had told me about the way that power worked, anything would be susceptible to it. It wasn’t even rust, it was some sort of general-purpose decay. There were a few of them scattered around the city. I’d try to memorize their names and faces.

“It’s non-magnetic,” Flynn said. “No idea how that works, but there it is. That will make it immune to some of the kytons, but not all of them. Most of them don’t use magnetism, they use kinesis, which is…” He noticed the bored look on my face, and moved on. “Anyway. The point is that this will work against almost anything. With your speed, you could probably cut through a tank.”

I smiled. “I think I’ll avoid that. Don’t want to damage it.”

“I honestly don’t think that will be an issue. He used his power to passively enhance the blade during the forging process. He has a weird ability to—you’re right, not important. The point is, it’s very strong.”

I smiled, then waved the blade through the air again. “I swear I can hear it singing. Hungry for blood?”

He nodded, but looked a little uncomfortable.

I frowned. “What?”

He hesitated. “Elrond… did some impractical things while he was forging it. Her. Whatever. Uh, do you want me to refer to the sword as a person, or—”

“Flynn,” I said tiredly.

“Right. Well. Elrond…” He took a deep breath. “He used some of Elizabeth’s blood. Don’t ask me how he got it, I have no idea. But he integrated it into the blade. Maybe just used it for cooling. But… yeah.” He trailed off.

I stared. “What?

“He seemed to think it would help.”

I brushed my hair back. My hand fixed my ribbon on automatic. “I think I need to meet this ‘Elrond.’ Soon.”

Flynn sighed. “I thought you might say that. I should warn you, though. He’s… odd.”

I smirked. “Crazy.”

“Yes,” Flynn said glumly. “Half the days he thinks he’s in a fantasy world, with dragons and elves and dwarves.”

“We have dragons now.”

“Don’t remind me. This freaking city…” He shook his head. “I’ll take you to him if you want, but I think you’ll regret it. I doubt you’ll get anything more useful than a headache out of the meeting.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“Fair enough. Can’t say I didn’t warn you.” He forced a smile on his face. “Anyway, let’s get back inside. You have a class to teach—assuming they haven’t killed Adam and escaped by now.”

I smiled as well and opened the door.

Inside, everyone was on the ground groaning. A few of the CS devices were smashed and one sword was embedded in a wall, but for the most part the destruction was minimal. A few people were curled up into balls, but most were just lying on their backs or their faces, too tired to move.

Adam stood by the table, nonchalantly sipping a sports drink.

“Hey,” he said with a smile. “That a new sword?”

Behind the Scenes (scene 317)

One of the oddities of the guilds is that they are more interested in what you do than how you do it. So both magnetism manipulators and metallokinetics are welcome in the kytons, just as all types of fliers are welcome in Robyn’s guild.

Scene 316 – Multis

MULTIS

RICHARD

“Aliens!?” I cried.

Silk winced. “I am surprised as well, Mister President.”

“But… I just… aliens!?

She pursed her lips. “I am sorry, sir. More sorry than you could possibly know.”

I took a deep breath and brushed my hair back. My hand was sweaty, my forehead was sweaty. We were sitting in the back of a limo, so I adjusted the air conditioning, but it didn’t seem to help.

“How did we miss them?” I asked. “Did the space colonies just decide not to tell us that an alien ship was heading right for us?”

Silk sighed. “They just… appeared a few thousand kilometers away. We don’t have any images of their actual arrival, but I have to assume that they used some sort of teleportation technology.”

I stared at her. “Teleportation?

“It already exists in Domina,” Lilith said. She was the only other person in the back of the limo. She hadn’t taken her eyes off Silk the entire time, but she hadn’t said anything. “Well, it’s not technology, but one of the powers. Perhaps these aliens have a similar source.”

Silk didn’t so much as blink. “Perhaps.”

I still wasn’t sure about bringing Lilith with me on this emergency meeting, but she had insisted, and it didn’t seem like a good time to annoy my new ally. At least she had left her bodyguard behind. That guy disturbed me. Every time he looked at me, I could tell he was thinking of the best ways to kill me.

I took a deep breath. “Okay. Teleportation explains how they got past our sensors and defenses so easily. It does raise some more questions, but whatever, we have a billion of those anyway. Just add it to the freaking pile.”

“What we need to focus on right now is opening diplomatic channels,” Silk said.

“If you don’t mind, I have a friend who might be helpful,” Lilith said. “My sister. She is in charge of most of the administrative parts of Domina City. I can patch her right through to the meeting.”

I thought about it, then shook my head. “No, it will be hard enough getting you in. The Joint Chiefs and Congress and whoever else might riot if we push the issue too much. Right now, it will just have to be you.”

Lilith looked disappointed, but nodded.

That was one of the reasons I had agreed to bring her along. I knew she would be reasonable.

The limo rolled to a stop. “We’re here,” Jefferies said from the front.

I frowned. “Already?” A moment later, Jefferies opened the door for me. “Thank you, Bryan.” I looked around. “What is this place?”

It looked like an abandoned warehouse. The company logo had been painted over, and there were no cars or trucks around. And none of that was as important as the fact that this obviously wasn’t the meeting.

I turned to my bodyguard and frowned. “Bryan, are you betraying me?”

He blinked. “What? No!”

“Because this really isn’t a good time for a coup. Maybe in a few weeks, I could fit it into my schedule, but—”

“No, sir, I—” He took a deep breath. “Sir, this is a very strange situation, I understand. But this is only a few minutes out of your way, and I really do think you need to see it. It doesn’t have any direct relation to the aliens, but I suspect it could be useful.”

I glanced up. The massive ship was still floating there without a care in the world. If I looked closely, I could see smaller ships flitting around it like flies. It had been over Domina City earlier, but it had drifted over New York now.

“All right,” I said. “Show me. But make it quick.”

Jefferies looked hesitant, but nodded and ushered me to the door. He held it open for me as if he was holding open the door for his best friend who had stolen his prom date because he had said he didn’t have feelings for her, but it was a lie, and he knew his friend was going to break her heart.

Ahem. Anyway.

I entered the warehouse to find a mostly wide open area. There was a table with a computer and some extension cords leading to the wall, but other than that the only thing of interest were strange pods. Each one was about the size of a large closet, covered in pipes and readout panels. They stretched from one end of the warehouse to the other. Some quick math told me that there were about ten thousand of them.

There was a woman at the computer. Even if she wasn’t wearing a lab coat, it would be obvious that she was a doctor. She was bent over the computer, typing madly away, while the monitor displayed some bizarre shapes and numbers I couldn’t make sense of.

The door slammed behind us, and the doctor glanced at us. She almost jumped out of her seat and forced a smile on her face. “Mister President! So good of you to finally come by! Have you been read in yet?”

“No,” I said. “And since there appears to be an alien invasion going on right now, I would prefer to do this as fast as possible.”

The doctor smiled. “That’s why you’re here, actually.”

Lilith raised an eyebrow. “You knew the aliens were coming?” For some reason, she glanced at Silk.

The doctor shook her head. “No, no, of course not! We—” She frowned. “I’m sorry, who is this?”

“Lilith,” I said. “Ambassador from Domina City. You can say anything in front of her.” Maybe that wasn’t a good idea, but I was annoyed. This was a distraction we could hardly afford. If someone didn’t get to the point soon, I was going to scream.

The doctor forced herself to smile. She took a few steps away from the computer, so that the pods were nicely framed behind her. “Well, this isn’t about the aliens directly. This is about creating an army!

“We have an army,” I said. “It’s called ‘the Army.’ Not to mention the Navy, Air Force, and Marines.”

The doctor was practically vibrating with glee at this point. “Of course. But training men takes time, ensuring their loyalty is difficult. What if you could create a highly-trained, perfectly loyal army in weeks?

I sighed. “Yes yes, all very impressive. Please just skip to the end.”

“Sir.” Jefferies stepped out from behind one of the pod devices.

“What?” I said, and then realized what was happening.

There were two of him.

The one next to me, my bodyguard, was dressed in an immaculate suit and had a handgun at his side. The other one had exactly the same face, but was unarmed and dressed in military fatigues. He stood straight and tall, and was soon joined by more. In moments, a dozen identical faces were staring back at me.

“What the hell?” I whispered.

“Homunculi,” Lilith said under her breath. I don’t think anyone was supposed to hear. Her eyes darted back and forth, trying to keep all of them in sight at once.

“Sir, please remain calm,” Jefferies—my Jefferies—said. He stepped out in front of me, between me and the clones. “These men are clones of me, not just in body but in mind. That means that they are loyal and willing to sacrifice themselves for your sake, or the sake of this country.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, counting to ten. This… was a bad idea. Something was going to go horribly wrong. It always did. Either the clones would turn out to be evil, or they’d be useless. Something.

“Where did you even get the money for all this?” I asked.

“Operation: Doppler,” the doctor said. “You signed all our budget requests.”

I groaned and rolled my eyes. “I thought that was a radar project.”

All of the Jefferies smiled a little. That was disturbing.

“Okay,” I said. I took another deep breath. “Thank you for informing me of this. It… might be useful against the aliens.” I shook my head. “We have absolutely no idea about their goals, their weapons, or anything, but fine, whatever. I just…” There were a billion and one questions that I didn’t have time to ask. Needed to narrow it down. “The clones. How long do they last? A full normal lifespan?”

“No,” the doctor said. “A few weeks. A month at most.”

I glanced at the clones. They didn’t look surprised at this news.

“That’s why they picked me,” the real Jefferies said. “They needed someone selfless enough to die a dozen times over.”

“Goody,” I said dryly. I waved my hand at the pods. “What about these? I’m guessing they have more clones in them.”

“Yes, sir,” the doctor said. “One each.”

“Put them on hold for now. We’ll deal with this later.”

The doctor started. “What?

“Pause everything,” I said. “We simply don’t have time.” I shook my head. “I can’t imagine why you thought it was a good idea to do this now of all times.”

The doctor frowned. “But sir, this was your idea.”

“…what?”

“Not the whole project, of course,” she said. “That was mine, but you called ahead, asked to be read into the details of the project.”

Jefferies frowned. “What? I got a call from you saying that everything was at a critical stage, and I should bring him immediately.”

I pointed at the doctor. “I definitely didn’t call you.”

She pointed at Jefferies. “And I didn’t call him.”

Lilith looked between us. “Unless the fey have a presence out here, that means—”

There was a loud clunk through the warehouse, like the sound of ten thousand different mechanisms moving at once. The pods began to leak steam from their fronts, outlining the doors on each pod I hadn’t spotted before.

“Oh,” Silk whispered. “It’s like I can finally breathe.”

She was collapsed next to the doctor’s computer. She looked like she had just run a marathon and couldn’t move her legs, but she was smiling through the sweat and tears. Like she had accomplished something important.

The doctor ran over to the computer. “She—she activated all the pods at once! Decanting everyone!

I stepped back. “Are they going to attack?”

The doctor shook her head. “No, all the mental programming is done. So is the physical, for that matter, they’re perfectly viable specimens. But we don’t have the resources to handle all of them at once.”

I glared at Silk, still on the floor. “Explain yourself.”

“Imagine being trapped in a box,” she said.

But it wasn’t her. Not the Silk collapsed in front of the computer. I turned, horrified, to see an entirely different Silk stepping out of the steam of the foremost pod. She was naked, but unconcerned. She walked like a queen, full of confidence.

“This box is the size of a postage stamp,” the naked Silk continued. “But somehow, you managed to stuff yourself inside this box. You couldn’t do anything, couldn’t move, could barely even think. But you grew used to it.”

“Silk,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I was talking to the naked one or the one at the computer.

“But then, one day, the box grows.”

I turned my head to see another Silk, stepping out of another nearby pod. Also naked. Also completely in control.

“Suddenly it’s not the size of a postage stamp, but a shoebox,” she said. “How would that feel?”

“Would you feel like you could think again?” another Silk said.

“Would you feel something like yourself again?” said another.

“Silk,” I said, stepping back. “Please make them stop.” I noticed that Jefferies had his gun out, and his clones were slowly establishing a perimeter. Looking for weapons of their own, maybe?

Silk—the clothed one—stood and walked over in front of her clones. “You misunderstand, Mister President. You have nothing to fear.”

“We haven’t finished testing everything yet,” the doctor said. She had the look on her face of someone who knew they were fired, but that they might be able to avoid jail time if they cooperated. “That’s why they were supposed to wake them up one by one. Even with Jefferies, there were a few… uncertainties. With this woman as the template, they could get… violent.”

“And you misunderstand as well,” my Silk said.

“What do you think I did?” another said.

“That I just swapped out Jefferies’ DNA sample for my own?” said another.

“I did far more than that.”

Lilith stepped up next to me. Her back was straight, her eyes were strong. “Either kill us or explain. Stop playing games. We have work to do.”

Several of the clones smiled. “Ah, my friend. Always so protective.”

“But we are not in your city, oh Daughter of Fire.”

“Richard is not one of your children.”

“Are you truly going to try to be a mother for the entire world?”

“Silk,” Lilith said. “Explain.”

“Or tell your clones to leave,” I said. “It would make us feel a lot safer.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that some of Jefferies clones had guns now. They must have found the armory or something.

My Silk smiled at me. “Oh, Richard. I understand that this is a lot to take in, but surely you’ve realized it by now? You were always so observant.”

I kept my lips pressed in a firm line. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.”

“There is no one to send away,” Silk said. “All these bodies are me.”

I frowned. Of all the things I expected her to say, that wasn’t one of them. Of course, this day was already more surreal than the time my college roommate spiked my drink with acid. “You’re—I—what?”

“You’re a podbrain,” Lilith whispered. “A thousand-body podbrain.”

Another Silk smiled at her. “That’s one word for it. I dislike it. Your podbrains are multiple individuals with linked minds. I, on the other hand, am one individual with a thousand bodies.” She smiled, and so did all the other clones. “It’s a tiny shadow of the power I once had, but it will do for now.”

I struggled to wrap my brain around what she was saying. “You’re… so your clones, they…”

“They are me,” one of the clones said.

“And I am them,” said another.

“I was planning on unveiling this in a few weeks or months,” yet another said. “Unfortunately, the miscalculation with the para forced my hand.”

I frowned. “The who?”

“The aliens,” said another clone. She smiled. “You’ll get to know them soon enough.”

“I… I… need to sit down.” I stumbled, and Lilith caught me. My head was swimming so much I barely noticed. But somewhere in my tortured, confused brain, a connection was made. “This whole project was your doing, wasn’t it?”

The clothed Silk nodded. “I needed bodies, and I couldn’t make them myself. So I gave a doctor an idea, slipped her altered blueprints. Forged signatures, spoke with your voice over the phone.” She breathed a sigh of relief. “And finally, here we are. For the first time in thirty years, I feel like I can think again.”

“You’re not thirty,” I said. It was stupid, but it was the first thought that popped into my head. According to her resume, she was twenty-five.

“You should—you should have thought first,” the doctor said. She was shaking, but she managed to stand up to a small army anyway. I made a mental note to not throw her in prison. “Those clones will only last a few weeks. Do you think I’m just going to make ten thousand more for you?”

One of the clones gave her a pitying smile. “Do you think I’d make clones for myself that would fall apart in less than a month? These will last ten years. The next batch will last a century, if not more.”

“You—” The doctor looked at the pods. “You made upgrades? Incredible! With these, we can—”

One of the clones snapped her fingers. Every single pod popped and spat sparks. Many of them started smoking.

“I’m sorry,” the clone said. “That’s a little above your pay grade.”

The doctor looked like she was about to cry. If my life’s work had just been destroyed right in front of me, I probably would have cried.

“I’m sick of this,” Jefferies said, eyes seething with rage. He—and all his clones—had pistols out and pointed at the crowd of Silk clones. “Sorry, Mister President, but you’re going to have to get a new secretary.”

“Wait,” I said. “I think she might—”

“No more games,” he said.

They all fired.

Bullets tore into the Silk clones, splintering bones and splattering blood. I saw bits of gray matter and worse, flying through the air as if in slow motion. The warehouse was filled with the deafening echoes of gunshots, and the sharp scent of gunsmoke filled the air.

The Silk clones didn’t move. Not when bullets burst through their rib cages, not when they bounced around inside their skulls, and not when the original Silk was filled with so many bullets that her face was unrecognizable.

It didn’t take too long for the Jefferies clones to run out of bullets. Still, the Silk clones stood tall.

After a moment, they began to heal.

Blood leaped off the floor and back into the body. Bones reassembled themselves. Flesh re-knit, not even leaving behind a scar. In moments, every single clone, as well as the original, was back in perfect condition.

The original Silk spat something on the floor. It was a bullet.

No one moved. No one breathed.

“I understand your protective instincts, Bryan Jefferies,” Silk said. “But they are misplaced. You cannot harm me, and I have no desire to harm you regardless.”

I swallowed. “What do you want from us?”

She just smiled. “Nothing. Why would I? I have everything I need from you. You are walking the correct path towards peace. The para are an anomaly, of course, but I will keep them under control. That’s why I upgraded, after all. You have nothing to fear from me.”

“Everyone wants something,” I whispered. I had learned a thing or two from politics on the Hill. I hadn’t slept through all the meetings. “No man—or woman—would accumulate this much power without some goal in mind.”

One of the Silk clones laughed, but the rest just smiled. “Oh, I apologize for my outburst. It’s been so long since I’ve been like this, I forgot that you wouldn’t understand.”

“Yes, yes, you’re one person instead of ten thousand, I know,” I said. “Podbrain, metaconcert, hive mind, whatever you want to call it. Now what do you want?

Silk was still smiling. “You misunderstand. It is not about the nature of my bodies.”

“It is about relative power.”

“A cat should not try to understand a human’s worries.”

I frowned. “What?”

She sighed. “Again, I apologize. Please, allow me to explain this in the simplest way that I can.”

And suddenly, I was on the ground, on my knees. I was… I was kneeling before her. I looked around, and all the others were kneeling as well. The doctor, Lilith, the Jefferies clones… all of us. They all looked as shocked and surprised as I felt.

I looked up into eyes deeper than oceans.

“I am God,” Silk said simply. “My will be done.”

And then she and all her clones disappeared, as if they had never existed at all.

Behind the Scenes (scene 316)

I’ve rewritten this scene a million times. There was one draft where Silk made literally the entire world bow to her, but that had too many problems.

Scene 315 – Furorem

FUROREM

ELIZABETH

I gripped the rock above my head. My hand was almost skeletal, the skin scorched off, my regeneration barely able to keep it in one piece. But I pulled myself up anyway, farther up the rock wall. It was easier than it should have been, since my legs were burned away. They would regenerate in time, but for now the lack of them halved my body weight.

Nothing hurt. Not yet. But that would come soon. Right now I didn’t have any nerves to hurt with, but I could already feel them itching. Regenerating.

I reached up with my other hand. Half the tendons were gone and the bones were visible and scorched black, but I found a place to grip. I waited a second, long enough to regain some strength, and pulled myself up farther.

The temperature went down a degree. Maybe not even that. But step by step, I was pulling myself out of the volcano. With every move, the heat abated, just a tiny bit, and I healed that much faster.

I didn’t look back, at the lava lake far below. Instead I reached up and pulled myself higher again.

This was all Derek Huntsman’s fault.

I had blamed Adam Anders at first. He was the one who knocked me into the liquid nitrogen, after all. And I would have my revenge on him, yes I would. I simply hadn’t decided whether to drown him in lava or nitrogen.

But Huntsman was the ultimate cause. Huntsman was the one my sister was so taken with, the one who her every plan revolved around. Every plan in Domina City, anyway. Her little hero. Pah.

Hate for him was what drove me forward. Every time I reached up to grab a new handhold, I imagined it was his neck. As I pulled myself up, I imagined pulling him down. I imagined him burning forever in the lava lake, like I had. A jumbled mess of pain and numbness, as nerves burned off and tried to regenerate at the same time.

Of course, he didn’t have regeneration. Would my sister give it to him, if it was the only way to save him? Or would she let him die and pick a new pawn, someone I held no grudge against?

I had no idea. I wasn’t sure I cared.

Just keep moving. One hand, then the other.

Just… keep… moving.

Standing on the lip of the volcano’s edge, the chill breeze blowing against me like the beautiful blood splatter of an innocent, I finally gave in. I collapsed to my knees, breathing deep the cold, clean air. Not that it was actually clean. But at least there was more air than ash out here.

I wasn’t sure how long it took me to climb out of the volcano. Hours? Days? I had been trapped in the lava for a length where time had no meaning, so it was impossible to say. Hard to keep an eye on the clock when your brain keeps turning to ash.

Now that I had a chance to rest, my AR interface had a chance to repair itself. Information overlayed my vision, simple things like temperature and current body state, not to mention time and date.

January 7th. A Monday. I had been stuck in that volcano for a little over two months.

I breathed deep. It could have been worse. It could have been much, much worse.

Once I was fully healed, I struggled to my feet. I looked around, but couldn’t see much. The volcano was in the middle of a short mountain range, and I didn’t see any signs of civilization. I didn’t much care to speculate why. Maybe my sister had intentionally dropped me as far from people as possible. Maybe the weak little mortals were just naturally scared of volcanoes. It didn’t matter.

I checked my internal GPS to get my bearings. Besceriul’s software was so much more intuitive than anything the mortals had ever come up with, so I was able to find a nearby town easily. I pointed myself in that direction and started running. Once I was sure I wasn’t going to stumble and fall, I crouched down, jumped, and activated my speed at the exact right moment.

I wasn’t like Akiyama. My mind was not sped with my body when I used my power. While it had its disadvantages, it did make me so much stronger than I should have been. When I combined a full-force jump with as much speed as I could muster, I ended up leaping hundreds of feet into the air, covering almost half a mile of horizontal distance.

And then I splashed.

I was too high up, and I came down too fast. Blood and gore and bits of bone splattered across the rocky mountainside like a spilled casserole. There was little left but a long red streak on the stone. It would take an expert to even confirm that it had once been human.

The regeneration was always the worst. My brain had been smashed on landing, so I had only felt a brief instant of pain before everything went black. But my brain was one of the first things to regenerate, since it was high priority, so in moments I could feel muscles and bones recovering from impossible wounds.

I screamed, not caring who heard. The few animals that hadn’t been driven away by my landing fled at that. Good. I had enough trouble with mindless mortals, I didn’t need to add mindless animals to the list.

In a few minutes, I was fully healed. I grimaced and rose to my feet, then took off running again. Then I jumped again.

And I splashed again.

I don’t know how many times the cycle repeated. A dozen times? Fifty? More than ten, certainly, and less than a hundred. It was just a constant blur of pain and regeneration. There was nothing else in the world except for that.

That and my hate.

I would punish Huntsman for everything he had done to me. This, the lava, every indignity. Every scream was a cry of rage, every growl a warning from one predator to another. Everything would be paid back in full.

It took hours, but I finally reached the town. I walked the last half mile, since landing in the middle of town would have caused problems. It was a small fishing village. It wasn’t the largest one on the island, but it had been the closest.

People looked up when I walked into town. Some of them ran off to find the mayor or village elders or shaman or whatever. I doubted they had a single visitor a week, so they didn’t have anything prepared for guests or enemies.

A middle-aged man with olive-colored skin ran up. I was in the Philippines, so I assumed he was a native. I didn’t pay enough attention to race and skin color and other stupid things like that to be sure. That was one thing Domina City got right. Skin color was easy to change, even without the toy maker. Who cared? Everyone still bled the same.

“Hello,” the man said. From that one word, I could tell his English was absolutely terrible. “I—”

“I speak Filipino,” I said in Filipino. It was as easy as blinking. “Or Bikol or Sambal or Tagalog. Whatever you prefer.” I scanned the village. Some kids were looking at me with wide eyes, but their mothers were pulling them inside.

The man relaxed visibly. “Thank you,” he said graciously in Filipino. He still had a slight accent, but it was barely noticeable. “My son is going to get you some clothes. We can discuss what you need after that.”

I looked down at myself. I was naked. I hadn’t even noticed. The lava, of course, must have burned it all off. Or was it burned off when my sister melted me out of that stupid ice cube? Eh, it didn’t matter.

The man smiled at me. He seemed anxious to please. Perhaps he was always like this with strangers. Or maybe he was used to warlords wandering in like they owned the place, shooting everyone who resisted. This was one of those perpetual warzones, right? Like Hawaii and Antarctica? Or was it the other way around, and these were the peaceful ones? Ugh, for once I was actually wishing that I had paid attention during Lakerine’s lectures.

In a few moments, a young man ran back to us, carrying a bundle of brown cloth. He handed it to me, smiling. I took it and unfolded it. It was just a robe. Eh. Wouldn’t be fun in this heat, but I guess they couldn’t be sure anything else they had would fit me.

“Did she say who she was?” the man said to his father in the Albayanon language. It was clearly his native tongue. “What she’s doing here?”

“No and no,” I said in the same language. I slipped on the robe as they stared at me in surprise. Hm, good quality. Not itchy at all. “My business is my own, and I will leave as soon as I am able. You have nothing I want.”

The men glanced at each other, but the father was the one who spoke. “Can we offer you some lunch before you go? The closest city is some distance.”

“You can offer,” I said. “I will not take it.” I cocked my head and peered at the water. “Those fishing boats of yours—do any of them have motors?”

“Several,” he said. “A few are undergoing repairs at the moment, however. Would you like to borrow one of the functional ones? The city is only a few hours away. In fact, my son would be happy to take you.”

“That will not be necessary,” I said. “I will drive it myself.”

He frowned, but managed to get a smile back on his face quickly. “Perhaps we could come to some kind of arrangement—” He stopped. Gurgled. Then he stared at the glowing orange sword that I had just shoved through his chest.

“This arrangement will suit me just fine,” I said.

I dismissed the blade, and the man collapsed in a heap. Blood started pooling, and I smiled. I took a deep breath. Oh yes, I had missed this.

His son was standing stock still. “You… what have you done?

I grinned wolfishly, then slashed his throat with claw-blades. They were like long fingernails, but made of energy blades. They weren’t useful most of the time, but that closeness… that feeling of the blood gushing out from under my fingers. Mm. There was nothing like it in the world.

The son clutched at his throat and stumbled back, eyes wide with horror. He tried to shout something but more blood just spurted from under his fingers. He collapsed to the ground, then fell over.

Someone screamed. I saw a young girl by the wall of the nearest building. I tossed a knife at her and her head snapped back, cutting off her scream. I didn’t spare her a second glance. I just marched forward, claws out, heading for the boats.

A bullet hit my shoulder. I hissed in pain, but didn’t drop or take cover. Instead I cast my eyes around, looking for the culprit. There—a young man with a rifle. Probably for hunting game. I doubted he had ever shot a human before. He looked hesitant to fire again.

His mistake.

I dropped my claws and activated my speed, covering a hundred feet in half a second. The man yelped in surprise and tried to bring the gun around, but I grabbed it and tossed it aside. He tried to punch me, but I blocked that as well, then stabbed my energy claws deep into his eyes. He screamed in pain, and I twisted. His screams cut off, and I tossed him aside.

There were more screams, more gunshots. But nothing close. I had a free path to the boats. I wouldn’t even need my speed.

I glanced back. People were running, screaming. I saw people with guns looking around the village entrance, confused. They didn’t know where I had gone. They might not even know what the problem was. Maybe they were expecting a wild animal attack.

There had to be at least a few hundred people in this village. I could leave, and they would never find me. Likely wouldn’t even give chase.

I grinned and turned back.

I had time to kill.

Behind the Scenes (scene 315)

This one got moved around a few times as I tried to find the perfect place for it.

Scene 314 – Advena

ADVENA

DEREK

I woke up in my dorm room. I glanced at my clock. 0558—two minutes before my alarm. I waited for it to beep, then turned it off instantly. I didn’t want to wake up Laura.

I glanced at her. She was still sound asleep, clutching one of my pillows to her chest like a teddy bear. I smiled. She had been doing that since we were kids. Of course, if I brought it up, she was liable to throw it at my head.

I stood, stretched, and checked the calendar. It was Monday, January 7th. The ambassadors were still in New York, sussing out the last details of the peace treaty. Adam was still there too. He said he wanted to keep an eye on Saki in prison, but I knew he wanted to be close to Lily. She was going through a lot.

At least Malcanthet was confirmed dead. I was tempted to ask for Adam to send us her head in a box, but I had to have faith in his judgment. If he said she was the one who had died in that fire, I had to believe him. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any DNA or dental records for her, so we’d never know for sure. And even if—though, even though—she was dead, there were still the Malcatari to worry about. None of them had been captured. The Riven didn’t know anything about their numbers or safehouses, so they could be anywhere by now.

I sighed and shook my head. I kept getting wrapped up in my thoughts. The city was mostly fixed from the Rampage and the war. Most of the cultures were relatively quiet, and trade with America would bring new prosperity.

It wouldn’t last, of course. It never did, not in Domina City. But for now, I just wanted to enjoy it.

I jogged up the stairs to the roof and started my morning work out. It was still dark, not to mention cold as ice. Every breath felt like knives in my lungs. But that kind of thing was good for you. Kept you sharp, alert.

It used to be that Akane came up here to exercise too. Nowadays, she spent all her time at NHQ. Butler had even talked about setting her up with her own wing for the kensei, rather than making them stay in the old training rooms. It was good. Great, even. But still, I didn’t like change. I missed the days when it was just the two of us, fighting monsters and struggling in school.

It was a stupid wish. Not only was it impossible, it was wrong. Incorrect. Those days fighting beside Akane had been hard at the best of times, and I had lost a lot of good friends. I still had nightmares about friends being eaten whole by gargants, or crushed under a croaking wave of poisonous jumpers. I had grown used to them, but just a few nights ago I had woken up screaming. I had been remembering the time Mohamed’s sister had all her flesh melted off by an invisible gas.

Things were better now. Not just for me, for the entire city. I had a small but growing gang of hirelings who handled most of the actual monster slaying, and it was safer since they had powers and better resources. Akane had her kensei, Adam had his CS-squad, Laura her work with Clarke. Even Robyn seemed to be doing better. I wasn’t sure what the story was with her fliers, but she seemed happy enough.

This was better. It really was.

Then why did I feel like I was going to die of boredom?

I sighed and continued my exercises. I needed to take Laura out to a movie or something. Hadn’t Lord of the Rings just been released on the mainland? Things were always delayed here, but maybe the treaty could speed that up.

There was a deep, echoing boom that seemed to shake the very air. I glanced up, but didn’t see anything, so I continued my exercises. It was probably some flier playing with their powers. Maybe that was what a sonic boom sounded like.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

I spun around, falling into a fighting stance to face my opponent.

It was Elizabeth—no, Silk. The elegant silk dress, blowing gently in the breeze, was only the first clue. Her face was soft and sad in a way that Elizabeth had never been able to fake. She stood on the roof as if she had been there the entire time, and was looking up into the sky as though something terrible was happening up there.

I followed her gaze. I didn’t see anything.

“What?” I asked. “What wasn’t supposed to happen? The treaty?”

She turned to me a smiled. “Oh no, the treaty is proceeding wonderfully. Exactly the right number of mistakes and concessions on both sides. Domina and America will both come out the stronger for it.” Her smiled faded. “If they survive.”

“Survive what—”

My phone rang. Laura’s ringtone.

I picked it up reflexively. “What’s going on?”

“Get down here right now,” she said, her tone iron and urgent. “We need to be at NHQ five minutes ago.”

“Laura, Laura, slow down. What’s happening?”

“There’s a ship, Derek!”

“From Lemuria, or Ceres?”

“From somewhere else! It’s an alien ship!”

I felt my heart stop beating. I glanced at Silk. She just nodded.

“How—what—”

Laura heard me and thought I was talking to her. “It looks like a small scout ship. We’ll figure out the rest later. Just get down here!” She hung up.

I stared at the phone for a minute, then looked at Silk.

“They are called the para,” she said. “And they should not be here.”

I swallowed. “They’re aliens.”

“Yes. From three-thousand light years away, to be precise. That means it should have taken them three-thousand years to get here. Not two-thousand eight hundred.”

I paused as I tried to sort that out in my head. Space was not my area of expertise. “In the original timeline, it took them longer?”

“Yes. But that’s not the issue. They were traveling at the speed of light using their fastest means of propulsion. They were scheduled to arrive in a little over two hundred years. It is impossible for them to get here earlier.” She met my eyes. “I’m not sure you’re ready.”

I stood tall. “We’ll fight. We’ll survive.”

Silk frowned. “That’s the problem. I was hoping that this time, it could end without bloodshed. But your society has not advanced enough yet.” She sighed. “Though neither has theirs.”

“So we have options,” I said. “Other than fighting.”

There was another boom, this time loud enough to knock me to the ground and make the whole ‘scraper shake.

I flipped onto my back and looked up. The clouds were parting, and a massive ship was coming through. It was wedge-shaped and large enough to cast a shadow over the entire city. It had a dozen glowing white engines on its underside, each of which must be large enough to hold a building. Oddly, it was painted in a random rainbow of colors, symbols and signs that I couldn’t understand.

“You have options,” Silk said, looking at the ship hovering over the city. “But I doubt you’d like any of them.” She looked down at me sadly. “Good luck, little hero. I am afraid that you will sorely need it.”

Then she disappeared, right in front of my eyes.

The ship remained. I saw tiny specks, like smaller ships being launched from the main.

I took a deep breath and jumped to my feet. I watched the ships for a moment, then nodded to myself and walked over to the stairs down.

The time for boredom was over.

Behind the Scenes (scene 314)

Yes, I had the para planned out the whole time. They are thematically parallel with Domina in many ways, as you’ll see soon.