I pulled my hand out of the woman’s chest and let her corpse fall to the floor. I shook her blood off, then morphed my hand from a stone blade to a stone hand. Some distant part of my mind kept watch on my reservoir, but there was little need. I had such reserves and it regenerated so fast that practically nothing could deplete it.
I stepped around the corpse, stalking in front of the rest of the prisoners. They were all kneeling in front of me, heads down, my gravers keeping them contained with concrete shackles. No one spoke.
“That one was easy,” I said in a pleasant voice. I had watched enough shows to know that the really disturbing enemies were the ones who spoke calmly and quietly. “I know for a fact that she was a spy. Evidence, pictures…” I waved my bloodied hand flippantly. A few drops landed on some of the prisoners, and they flinched away. “For the rest of you, the evidence is not so… concrete.”
I waited to see if anyone—prisoners or gravers—reacted to my pun. No one did, so I moved on.
“I would prefer not to resort to violence without certainty,” I said. “I would prefer more facts, more information. Which is why I am offering you all a choice. Give up an American spy, and I will simply exile both of you. Remain silent, and I start killing people.”
No one spoke. Someone sniffled, another shuffled in place.
“I understand,” I said, nodding. “You don’t know if you can trust me to keep my word. In fact, it’s possible that some of you are true, native Dominites, who don’t know anything useful to me at all.” I stroked my chin with my flesh hand. “If only there were some way to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that someone was from Domina City.”
Still no one spoke. Like scared animals, they sensed a trap.
“The obvious answer would be to look for toys,” I said. “But that would be incorrect. An outsider can get toys, and a Dominite can choose not to.” Most of the people kneeling in front of me were baseline, though a few had minor toys. “And simple tests of knowledge can easily be faked. Anyone can learn about Eden, or Bloody Thirteen, or Elizabeth’s Crusade. What then, can be tested? What does every Dominite have in common?”
I waved to my gravers. They grabbed the prisoners roughly by the arms and started dragging them away to individual interrogation cells. Some of them started sobbing—good. I needed them scared. The questioning would go easier that way.
“Lady Grave,” one of my men said once the prisoners were gone. “I just have one question, if you don’t mind.”
I looked him in the eyes and smiled. He was an angel, so he had dayeyes. Violet, in his case. “You’re wondering what this thing is that only a Dominite would know. What test I could use to ensure that we found the spies.”
He looked uncomfortable. “Yes, my lady.”
“There isn’t one,” I said.
He blinked. “What?”
“Nothing reliable, anyway. It’s all about getting them panicked, tricking them into making mistakes. That’s all interrogation is, Mister Ishim. Tricks and subterfuge. Speaking of which…” I kicked the woman on the ground. “Please get up.”
My gravers all gasped as the ‘corpse’ groaned and clambered to her feet. She still had the hole in her chest where I had speared her.
“How are you feeling?” I asked. I was serious—she couldn’t die, but that hardly meant getting hurt was fun.
“Not good,” she groaned. “You missed my heart, but only barely. Can I talk to a doctor? I just need to get patched up, I can take care of the rest on my own.”
I nodded. “Of course. You,” I said, pointing out a graver at random—a baseline. “Take her to Doctor Terra, then go find my accountant.” I smiled. “Miss Howlett needs to be paid for her services.”
The graver nodded and took the woman through one of the side entrances, opposite the direction the prisoners had gone. Speaking of… I waved my hand and covered all the doorways with concrete.
“What was that for, my lady?”
“I’m feeling paranoid of late.” I shook my head. “Superpowers and aliens. This whole city is going mad.” I sighed. “How many more groups of spies do we have on the list?”
One of the other gravers stepped up, a pad under her arm. “That was the last of them, ma’am. Of course, it’s quite likely we missed a few. There’s a rumor about the fey sheltering some spies in Summerhome, but that’s the only lead we have left.”
I frowned. “Why would the fey do that?”
“Perhaps they want to interrogate them themselves? Or maybe they’re just insane.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Whether the fey are exploiting them or protecting them, they are out of our reach.” I concentrated and molded a large chair out of the concrete beneath me. I let myself fall into it. There were no cushions, of course, but pain was a distant memory for me at this point. “If the city is clean of spies, that means we can focus on the aliens.”
My graver with the pad nodded. I specifically chose not to think of her name. She didn’t like it, and was trying to choose a new one. That was her right and I needed to respect it, even if she was taking an annoyingly long time. “Necessarius has been quiet regarding the alien ship that landed a few hours ago, but they have assured everyone that it did not come to start a war.”
“A bit of good news, then,” I said. I had watched more than enough science fiction—and read enough real science articles—to know that even that small shuttle could probably level the city if it decided to self-destruct. “What of our spies?”
“They say the alien is still in quarantine,” she said. “Beyond that, no detail. They can’t even be sure whether or not Butler has spoken to the alien.”
“He has,” I said. “Or Laura has, at least. She wouldn’t let an opportunity like this pass. What about the mothership?”
“Nothing. It hasn’t changed course or sent any messages that we could detect, let alone intercept or decrypt. I’m not sure that they are even aware of the shuttle.”
I drummed my real fingers on the concrete armrest. “That’s an interesting thing to say. You think the shuttle was a rogue launch?”
“It makes sense, ma’am,” she said. “If this were a large-scale, coordinated action, they would have sent multiple shuttles. One to every capital city would have been the wisest course of action, but at the very least they would have sent one to Mars. Probably Luna and Ceres as well. Domina City is important, but it is not the most important or most populated city on Earth. Like I said, this feels like a rogue faction that chose someplace at random.”
“…I was with you up until the end,” I said. “Why do you think it’s random?”
She shrugged. “What reason would an alien have for coming here specifically?”
I ticked the reasons off on my fingers. Again, the ones that were still flesh. “The toy maker. The powers. Elizabeth. Silk. Or maybe they just thought the giant circle looked like a landing pad.” I sighed. “I shouldn’t get snippy. You are going an excellent job.”
She smiled. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“However, I still believe that there is more going on here than random chance. Look into that.”
She bowed. “Of course, ma’am.” She turned to go. She had to place her hand on one of the concrete-covered doorways to open it, but she managed it. She even sealed it again behind her. Such a thoughtful girl.
“Is there anything else on the agenda today?” I asked.
The remaining gravers bowed their heads. “No, Lady Grave.”
I waved my stone hand. “Then leave. Prepare the prisoners for interrogation, but wait for my signal to start. Just start with the simple stuff like distant screams and the sound of flesh being burned. Anything to keep them on edge.”
They bowed again and left. They didn’t seal up the passage behind them, which I found annoying, but I fixed it with little more than a thought.
I sighed and leaned back in my chair. With all the entrances sealed, this chamber was dead silent. There were some windows far above, letting light in through a few shattered floors. I had replaced the broken original windows with soundproof ones in my first week. This chamber, this tomb, would eventually run out of air, but with only one person that would take days, if not weeks. For now, it was just my own personal sanctum, free from all distractions of the universe.
…I needed to get a tv in here.
After an hour or so of silence, I heard the sound of something smacking against one of the stone walls I had used to cover the doorways. I expanded my stonesense and realized that someone was trying to get through the northernmost doorway. That was the one that led directly to the front of the Grave.
“Enter,” I said.
The wall started to melt, and one of my newer gravers forced his way through awkwardly. He was a fel anthro, and he was left with a bunch of hardened clumps of stone in his fur like he had lost a fight with a wax factory.
“My—” He cursed under his breath as his foot got stuck in the wall. “Fur and fang, just give me a second—”
I concentrated, channeling my power through the stone of my chair, into the floor, and finally into the wall. I molded it away from him, but then closed it up again behind him. Whatever this was, I had to assume it was best kept private. As an afterthought, I molded my chair around so that I could face him.
“What is it?” I demanded. “Have you found more American spies?”
“No, my lady.” He attempted an awkward bow. “It’s about the aliens, my lady. The ones Necessarius captured and put into quarantine?”
Aliens, plural? That was the first bit of actual intelligence we had yet. “So our spies have found something? Excellent.”
He hesitated. “My lady, I am so sorry—”
“Out with it,” I snapped.
“Our spies have been outed,” he said. “In fact, it appears that Butler has known the entire time. His people hand-delivered these to all our informants on the inside.” He proffered me a stack of papers. No, not papers, cards.
“What are they?” I asked.
“Invitations, my lady,” he said. “All addressed to you, all identical.”
I took one and looked it over. It wasn’t anything special. Just a simple formal invite for the Lady of the Grave and two bodyguards to a meeting. It didn’t say my name, I noticed, just my title. I wondered if that was a sign they didn’t know who I was, or if they were just being polite. Either way, it was simple and to the point, as with everything Necessarius did.
Except this one was to an interplanetary summit with a representative of an alien species.
That begged the question of why Butler was inviting the gravers. My people weren’t exactly known as diplomats. Maybe he thought they might need muscle? Even in the middle of NHQ, he could still be surprised. Perhaps he wanted a few surprises on his side as well.
The fact that our spies were compromised was one of those surprises, but I couldn’t bring myself to be mad about it. It wasn’t like he had killed them all. I knew some warlords had demanded retribution for spies being outed, but it always just made them look petty, like little kids throwing a tantrum.
“The meeting is on Thursday,” I said, reading over the invitation again. “That’s two days. I want our best to be assembled and ready in the morning. Whether we’re defending against Necessarius or aliens, we have to be ready for anything.”
“Of course,” my graver said, bowing low. He left, the wall sliding back into place behind him.
I lay back and stared at the ceiling. Aliens. Even by the standards of this city, that was pretty damn weird.
Well, if I wanted to live somewhere normal, I should have moved to Kentucky.
I stood up, stretched, and left the room.
I had work to do.
Behind the Scenes (scene 322)
I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while, to show that while Ling is much more violent and pragmatic than she used to be, she’s still Ling. She has decided she’s the villain of the story, and is trying to guide the story in a direction that ends with the villain still alive. Top of the list is not actually torturing and murdering random people.