“I still think you should be more aggressive with the power lists,” I said firmly.
“My stake in this isn’t quite the same as the rest of you,” Adam said from his spot leaning against one of the walls in the exercise room. Well, former exercise room. All the mats had been removed for some reason or another, so now there were just bare concrete floors. “But I agree with Derek. People will feel much safer if they know MC has access to an entire database of powers.”
“Now there’s an idea,” Robyn Joan agreed with a nod. She was still playing some childish game that involved poking Akane in the shoulder, as if to see how long it took for Akane to get annoyed and attack her, but I could tell she was paying attention regardless. “Package it as MC’s thing, and that will help with public relations.”
Butler shook his head. “No. That will just earn us too many enemies.”
I sighed. “I’m not saying steal the things, I’m just saying offer to buy them for a reasonable price, rather than simply asking—” My phone rang. “One second.” I checked it; it was Kelly. “Yeah, I should probably take this. It’s the retinue.”
The Big Boss nodded, waving his hand magnanimously, and resumed pacing the room, as if he was testing out his legs. Even though I had been with him most of the day, it was still really weird seeing him walk around without his cane.
Laura checked her own phone. “Huh, I wonder why they didn’t call me…”
I shrugged as I flipped my phone open. “Who knows. Kelly? What’s going on?”
“South Gate!” she yelled into my ear, making me flinch away. “She’s at South Gate!”
“What? Who’s at South Gate?”
“I… I don’t know, just—” Gunfire sounded from her end of the line. “Futu-i! Everybody’s—” I could barely hear her over the sounds of combat. “Everybody’s shooting!”
“Kelly, calm down, who’s firing at you?”
“No one! They’re firing at—”
The line went dead.
“They’re firing at me,” a cool, friendly voice like milk chocolate said from behind me.
I turned slowly, not willing to believe I recognized the voice.
It was Lizzy. Not… I mean… Lizzy. Not Elizabeth, the Composer we had on ice back at the Zero Forge. Not the predator, the enemy, who we had fought and died against these past few months.
This was Lizzy. The girl I had grown up with, who I had gone to school with. The stupid girl with the beautiful smile—
Her smile… was different.
I couldn’t quite put my finger in it. Something… warmer? No, no, not the smile itself, but her face. There were creases, subtle smile lines etched onto her face, all the way up to her eyes.
And her eyes were different as well. Smarter, sharper. Not the dangerous, animal cunning of the Composer, but a twinkling intelligence, similar to what Doctor Clarke had.
No time to think about that. “Akane,” I spat.
I didn’t need to say another word. She sped forward faster than I thought possible, leaving behind nothing but the blue blur of her ribbon, her blade launched at our unexpected quest with the speed and precision of a lightning bolt.
It didn’t matter.
The bronze-skinned girl caught the blade with one hand, with all the apparent effort of leaning lightly against the wall.
“First,” she said with a friendly smile, her voice like warm honey. “You need to understand that I am not my sister—in temperament or power.”
The sword began to rust, like a thousand years of decay happening in a moment. Before anyone even knew what was happening, she had snapped the blade off at the hilt.
And then Akane was flying through the air, and the wall next to us exploded in dust. My heart skipped a beat for a moment, until she reappeared, glaring daggers at her opponent.
Elizabeth’s lookalike—and I knew now, whatever else she was, she was not Elizabeth Greene—clicked her tongue. “Red, please. Don’t give me that look. I am sorry, but you needed a new sword, and you know it.”
Not!Elizabeth smacked herself lightly on the head. “Ah, but where are my manners? Please, all of you, sit, sit!” She motioned for us to do so. “We have much to discuss.”
I raised an eyebrow. There were no chairs here—
But even as I wondered what she meant, a couch slid out of the floor. A large, three-person couch, the kind you’d see in a family living room. Molded out of the concrete as easily as if it were clay being shaped by a master.
Then pillows and cushions appeared. Frilly white pillows and cushions, like you’d find at a grandmother’s house. Just popped into place an inch or so in the air and flopped down.
When I turned back to the woman, she was making herself comfortable in a concrete armchair with similar furnishings. Noticing that we weren’t sitting, she smiled with good cheer. “Well, you don’t have to, I suppose.”
A little awkwardly, we all gingerly sat on the surprisingly comfortable couches. A second had risen up when I wasn’t paying attention. Akane, Laura, and I took one, while Adam, Robyn, Clarke, and Butler squeezed into the other.
“Everyone comfortable?” Elizabeth’s doppelganger said cheerily. “Good. As I said at South Gate before the bullets started flying, I am here for my sister.” She folded her hands in front of her. “Obviously, I do not expect to receive her for free. I am willing to negotiate a trade.”
“What kind of trade?” Butler demanded.
She smiled. “Patience, my dear hunter. Let’s start with introductions, shall we?” She indicated herself. “I am called Silk. Elizabeth Greene is, for lack of a better term, my little sister. I do apologize, but she is necessary for my plans, and I will require her to be returned to me.”
Laura narrowed her eyes. “It was you. You were the one she was answering to, all this time.”
“That one does not answer, Highlander. I loosed her like a poorly trained dog, trusting that she would do what she did best. And in the end…” She spread her hands wide. “Everything worked out perfectly.”
“You… meant for the Rampage to happen?”
“Point of order,” Clarke interrupted. “I thought we were calling it the MEE?”
Silk ignored him. “Yes. The end purpose of this city was always for everyone to receive a song—a power, as you call them. It was either that or send every single one of you into a black hole and then fish you out again.” She made a face. “It’s more annoying than it sounds.”
“You… built this city.”
I glanced at Laura. “What? She can’t be much older than us!”
Laura just gave me a look.
“Little hero,” Silk said gently. “As your Highlander is silently reminding you, my sister is immortal. Our personal appearances mean absolutely nothing. She is right. I did build this city. Or rather, cause it to be built by carefully manipulating world affairs.”
“Why?” Laura demanded. “I don’t mean the Rampage. You could have done that anywhere.”
“I needed a closed circle. Besides, this city has had other uses.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
Silk sighed. “I am very, very, very old. I simply wish to improve the quality of life of every single person in existence. There will be some pain along the way, but things are looking up, I promise.”
I glanced at Laura. She wasn’t showing any sign that Silk was lying.
“Why now, then? Why not hundreds or thousands of years ago, or however old you are?”
Silk smiled. “An excellent question! It could be said that I am from a dark and distant land—”
“You’re from the future,” Laura said.
We all stared at her, before slowly turning to Silk.
She was smirking. “I was getting to that.”
“I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while,” Laura said. “I knew it was the only thing that made sense. Doctor Clarke and I have been researching the powers ever since the start, you know. We knew that they were either technology from an extremely advanced civilization, or magic.”
Silk nodded. “Quite right, Highlander, quite right. Though I should note that where I’m from, we crossed the Singularity so long ago that the word ‘technology’ does not quite apply any more.”
“Well, I wanted to be clear for everyone else.”
I raised my hand with a meekness that surprised even me. I was just getting so overwhelmed by everything, that I couldn’t help it. “Uh, excuse me? This is all coming a little… fast. When exactly did you come from?”
“Far,” Silk said firmly. “I was born millions of years from now, and came back from a time even farther.” She met my eyes. Staring into her golden orbs, I understood, to the core of my being, how unspeakably different she was from her sister. Elizabeth’s eyes held nothing. Silk’s held everything.
“How old are you, though?” Clarke asked, breaking the moment.
She turned her attention to him and smiled. “My dear doctor, my life has been exceedingly complicated, and there are many possible ways I could answer that question. Suffice it say that at the youngest estimation of my age, I am older than every single human being in existence combined.”
Laura blinked. “There… there are fifty billion people in the solar system. And that’s assuming the census is accurate. It’s probably more like seventy billion.”
“Yes,” Silk acknowledged, smiling calmly.
But Laura wouldn’t let this go. “If the average age is twenty—”
“It’s twenty-four, actually.”
“…you’re nearly one point two trillion years old?”
Our golden guest chuckled. “Of course not. I am far older than that.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense! The universe itself is estimated to only—”
“Laura,” I interrupted, placing a hand on her shoulder to calm her. She glared at me, but let me speak. “Just let it go. There’s no way to prove or disprove her assertion. Trust her, or don’t.”
She leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest.
“I have another question,” MC piped up from the wall speakers. “When did you get here?”
Silk nodded. “Good question. The answer has two parts—”
“Thirty-one years ago,” Laura muttered. “In 1970.”
Silk chuckled. “Oh, you are a clever one, aren’t you? But no credit if you don’t show your work…”
“1970 is when all the big changes started,” Laura noted. “The Chinese and African Diasporas, the second American Baby Boom, followed by the Mexican, Canadian, and European Baby Booms, Domina City, the space colonies, perfectly efficient electrical engines…” She narrowed her eyes. “I imagine you either got here right before Apollo 13 launched, or soon after. Then you sabotaged the flight, and used it to whip up American and Soviet interest in space again.”
Another nod. “Correct, except for one minor detail. I did not sabotage Apollo 13. I didn’t save the astronauts, either; both of those would have happened regardless. What I did do was use the event to, as you noted, trigger the Second Space Race. In the original timeline, Apollo 13 was largely the death knell for space travel for a century or so.” She shrugged. “Too much danger for too little benefit.”
“Too little benefit?” Robyn asked, wide-eyed. “I have a list as long as my arm of all the benefits of space travel. I mean, even ignoring the technological advancements, the metals in the asteroid belt alone…”
Silk chuckled. “You don’t have to convince me, Princess. I was quite surprised when I realized what was going to happen, and took swift steps to correct such an obvious mistake.”
That made me raise an eyebrow. “You realized what was going to happen. Meaning you didn’t know until you landed?”
“Yes. History is beautifully detailed in the time I was born, but it had still been millions of years. Details were lost.” She shrugged. “Actually, I believe the problem was that it was simply glossed over. Even man’s first flight was little more than a footnote in the history books; we were never required to learn about the precise details of a single disastrous space flight. There were, to put it bluntly, more important things to worry about.”
“And the second part of your answer?” MC prompted.
Silk nodded. “Yes, thank you for reminding me. I arrived on Earth in 1970—April 15th, to be precise—but arrived in this timeline in 1969. It took a year to reach Earth.”
“Where did you arrive?” Clarke asked. “In this timeline, I mean.”
“Andromeda,” Silk quipped. She shrugged. “The closest galaxy to the Milky Way, if you didn’t know. Stopped by a couple pre-industrial worlds and dropped off some things to help them along, but I knew I’d be able to make the most difference on Earth.”
I wanted to say something about faster than light travel being impossible, but, honestly, didn’t see the point.
“Let’s get down to the details,” Butler said before Laura had a chance to ask any more questions. “What exactly is it you are offering?”
“A countersong,” Silk replied instantly, turning her golden gaze on him. “Yes. I can provide my dear doctor,” she nodded at Clarke, “with the blueprints for a small device that uses a harmless form of radiation to shut off any powers within a limited radius. The radiation is invisible, but blocked by anything solid enough to block light.”
Clarke leaned forward, frowning. “How—”
Butler silenced him with a raised hand. “Sounds wonderful. What’s the catch?”
“If I give you this device, I will also give it to every warlord in the city.”
There was a long, long pause.
“It’s still worth it,” MC insisted from her wall speakers. “Even if it is only used for temporary holding cells, we need some way to shut down powers. There’s just such a broad base of them, it would be impossible to account for them all.”
“For the record, I agree completely,” Laura added.
Butler closed his eyes in resigned defeat. “…fine. I see no other option.” He snapped his eyes open and glared at the woman sitting across from us. “But I had better not regret this.”
Silk met his gaze without fear. “I make no promises. The device will work as advertised, and I have already told you of the catch. That is all.” She turned to the rest of us. “Any last questions?”
We all turned to each other, but no one spoke up. “It looks like—”
“Wait,” Laura said suddenly. “Elizabeth hypnotized Derek.”
A brief flash of annoyance crossed Silk’s face. But was it annoyance at Laura, at Elizabeth, or at me for breaking free from the hypnosis? “Yes, she did. What of it?”
“He’s still hypnotized.”
I shuffled in my seat. “Just a few headaches. Nothing major.”
“Yes, about that… ” The woman shrugged. “He’ll recover soon enough. Depends on a number of factors, but it will work best if he discovers the solutions on his own. If I explained exactly how to do it, it would likely slow the process dramatically. If he’s still not cured within a year, call me.”
Laura frowned. “…call you? How?”
“Literally,” she insisted. “Call out ‘Silk, I wish to speak with you,’ within range of any electronic device in the city with a microphone. I will hear.”
That was more than a little disturbing.
“Now, if there are no further questions… ” Silk stood, her chair molding back into the concrete floor smoothly and seamlessly, the pillows disappearing as well. “I think it is time we thaw out my sister.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 233)
I rewrote this scene at least three times, cutting out more and more every time. Silk was willing to give them basically any information they wanted, so they really should have asked more. On the precise nature of the screamers and the Composer, the relationship between Silk and Elizabeth, and what exactly they are, that looks so close to human but isn’t. I’ll have to find a way to add those later; it just didn’t work here.