Tag Archives: sibriex

Scene 163 – Insulus

INSULUS

SEENA

My name…is Nyashk.

Nine Hells, it still felt weird. I mean, I had only officially been a warlord for three hours now, having finished my last treatment this morning, but I had figured I’d be more used to it now. The feeling of power. Of easy grace, and control. My entire body felt light as a feather, like I had shed a hundred pounds, even though the opposite had happened.

I had made my decision on Thursday, without telling my stupid brother. It was Monday now, the fifteenth of October, and I hadn’t had any missed messages from him during the meantime.

I was starting to get worried.

“Rumors are the Composer escaped on Friday,” Moloch, the culture’s viceroy, reported. “Details are scarce, however, and Butler hasn’t released an announcement yet.”

Zepar drummed his tail against the floor. “Hm…that’s something on its own. Normally, it would mean there was no truth to these rumors at all, but with something this important, he might want to keep it under wraps.”

“He didn’t do that with the screamers,” I noted, only half paying attention to the conversation.

“True,” my warlord—my fellow warlord—said with a sigh. “I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.”

“We still haven’t received any word from Necessarius regarding Grand’s assassination team,” the viceroy noted.

That grabbed my attention. I had been the one who insisted that we needed to at least attempt to kill the Composer, even though I was still a little worried Lizzy might not be it. “No word at all? Not even any confirmation that they’re still alive?”

“Not even any confirmation that they even got within a hundred yards of their target,” Moloch clarified. “But since their mission coincides with the Composer’s supposed escape…” he shrugged.

“They’re almost certainly dead,” I said flatly.

“If you feel optimistic, we can assume they killed Greene, disposed of the body, and now everyone thinks she’s dead,” Zepar put in hopefully.

I rolled my eyes. “That’s a few spoonfuls too much optimism for me, thanks.”

He grinned sadly. “Yes, I expected as much.” He nodded to the viceroy. “Log them as KIA. If we turn out to be mistaken, so be it.”

“Yes, Honored Noble.”

“Did any of them have any close family?” I asked. Their kids didn’t count, since they had all been put up for adoption, but if they had any surviving brothers or sisters…

But the serious-faced vampire just shook his head. “None that I know of. I already checked their wills; they left what little they had to the culture.”

Zepar scratched his chin. “And what does that consist of?”

Moloch shrugged. “Nine-hundred and eighty-three bucks and a couple decent guns.”

“Yes, well, put it all in the safe. Unless there’s anything else we need to discuss?”

“No, Honored Nobles.” He bowed as he left. “I will take my leave.”

Once the door closed behind the viceroy, I was able to let my breath out. “Finally. That guy makes me feel like a clown.”

“We hired him for his ability to stay calm and serious in any situation. You’ll get used to him, and start wondering how you ever survived without him.”

“I’m sure I will,” I muttered drily, not really in the mood to debate the point. “Are we done for today? I have something I need to do as soon as possible.”

Zepar raised an eyebrow. “Outside Maladomini? You’ll stand out a bit, with your new modifications.”

I gnashed my teeth, nearly slashing my tongue to ribbons in the process. “I’ll wear a cloak.”

“It’s also mid-morning.”

“I have daygoggles.”

“That’s not really my point.”

“Look, I’ll be back in an hour—two, tops. And then we can have a long meeting over tea and dumplings.” I blinked, realizing something. “Actually, we’re supposed to be equals. So I can leave whenever I want.”

The dark-skinned warlord nodded. “True, true, but I can advise you.” He shrugged. “Still, you have a point, and I think we’re about done. I was going to go to sleep soon anyway.”

I helped him clean up his tea set before hurrying out of the building. Vampires bowed, if only slightly, as I passed, and scurried to get out of my way.

It all felt so weird.

Maladomini was in West Middle, while the place I was going was in the corner of South Middle, so it was too far to walk. I could have commandeered a car from the motor pool, but…no. It just wasn’t something I was comfortable with yet.

Even on the light rail, it still took over an hour. It was only about twenty-five miles away as the crow flies, but the rail system turned it into seventy or so.

Still, I reached the skyscraper a little after nine, so it wasn’t too bad. Of course, for a vampire this was about the same as nine at night instead of nine in the morning, but the modification regimen over the last few days had screwed up my sleep cycle, so I felt as refreshed as any diurnal person.

Besides, I wasn’t visiting vampires anyway.

Well. No more reason to delay. I wrapped up my cloak, tucked it under one arm, and walked in the door.

The demon behind the front desk had a dozen bright pink horns arranged around her shaved head like a crown, matching the neon pink braid sprouting from the back of her head and draped casually over her shoulder.

“Welcome to Arhestanots, the Fleshworks,” she greeted me cheerfully. “Capital of the sibriex, leading the city into the future. Is there anything I can help you find?” If she was surprised by my appearance, she showed no sign. I suppose when you work for a toy-oriented culture, it takes a lot to faze you.

“I’m looking for Simon Lancaster,” I said without preamble. “He joined the culture a few months ago.”

“One moment, please.” She tapped at her computer for about two minutes, before frowning.

“Something wrong?”

“I”m sorry,” she said slowly. “I don’t have any record of him in our system.”

I stared at her through my daygoggles, sure that I had heard her wrong. “That’s impossible.”

“Yes, it is,” she muttered, still frowning. “I know Simon. He hasn’t done much since he got here, but he should still…” She bit her lip. “I remember he came in a few nights ago. Friday, maybe? There should at least be a timestamp for that.” She clicked through something, and her frown deepened. “Nothing.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means something has gone very wrong.” She reached for the phone. “Give me just a minute.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “You might want to hurry. I’m not known for my patience.”

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. Within ten minutes, the Unfleshed Lord himself was striding out of the elevator.

I had heard of him. Everyone had. The warlord who refused to keep the same toys for more than a week, switching faces and limbs almost as often as clothing.

Today, he didn’t look too odd, all things considered. A pale, hairless skinny thing, more like a corpse left in the sun too long than a man. Ugly, but not some jaw-dropping miracle of the toy maker. His pure white suit was stranger than his body.

His eyes were strong though, and they measured me up carefully. “How may I help you?”

“I am looking for Simon Lancaster. Your secretary says the database has no information on him.”

“Yes,” the demon said. “That is correct. I deleted it myself.”

The bluntness of his reply set me back a bit. “That’s…surprising. Why would you do something like that? If nothing else, I’d imagine you’d want to keep his toy receipt on file.”

“Lancaster committed grievous crimes against the culture. I refuse to remember him any more than I need to.” He turned to go. “If that is all, you know the way out.”

I grabbed his shoulder, my nails unintentionally drawing blood. I still didn’t quite understand the strength of my new toys. But I didn’t let go.

I was getting a very, very bad feeling in the pits of my stomach.

“What crimes?”

“That is an internal matter.”

I grit my razor-sharp teeth. Fine. “If Simon has been excommunicated, then where is he now? I need to speak with him immediately.”

The warlord glared at the blood staining his suit, then turned his gaze to me. “I really couldn’t tell you, and I wouldn’t care if I did know. Now unhand me.”

Instead, I tightened my grip. “You know something, Nhang. Speak, unless you want to become known as the Flayed Lord.”

The sibriex hissed in rage and slipped out of my grasp, losing a few chunks of flesh in the process.

“You threaten me, in my own House?” He stood up straighter, his eyes livid. “I am Narek Nhang, Gatekeeper of the Eighth Hell, Ani Kamakhym. Power of the sibriex, and the Unfleshed Lord. By all Nine Hells, who do you think you are?”

I don’t like bullies. And I hate bullies who use money and influence as their weapons.

And now, for the first time in my life, I had the power to strike back.

I didn’t hesitate. I whipped out my tail, a ten-foot long muscle that was only about two inches thick, but still strong enough to lift up the demon warlord by his neck. I was still getting used to the damn thing—and had been tripping over it all morning—but I think I finally understood why Zepar had insisted on putting the majority of my modifications into it.

“I am Nyashk,” I explained to the sputtering little man. “Noble of Maladomini. Seventh of the Black Crypts.” I narrowed my eyes (realizing a little late that my daygoggles undercut the effect a bit) and squeezed tighter. “Mine is a bloodline of assassins and killers. Yours is one of engineers and scientists. Both of us have our place.”

I pulled him close, until his face was inches from my own.

“And right now, yours is to tell me where he is.”

He glared at me defiantly…before looking away.

“Dead,” he muttered. “Dropped down the garbage chute Thursday night. The ghouls have picked his bones clean, by now.”

He…

I tightened my tail around his throat. “LIAR! Tell the truth!

He didn’t answer—he was too busy sputtering for breath. Just a few more seconds, and that wouldn’t be a problem anyway.

I couldn’t bring myself to care.

Because he wasn’t lying. Not that I could tell, anyway.

But…

My brother couldn’t be…

Four days ago I had been…what? Nine Hells, four days ago I had just decided to become the warlord Zepar wanted. Four days ago, I had gone under the knife.

Four days ago, my brother had died.

If I had made the decision sooner, would I have been able to save him?

I loosened my tail, letting the pale warlord fall to the floor, where he choked down great gasps of air. The secretary, I noticed, didn’t rush to his side.

Parts of me were shutting down. That’s what it felt like, anyway. Like all the parts of me that cared about Simon were just…turning off the lights. Protecting me from what was happening.

“I realize this was an unprovoked attack,” I heard myself say in a dead voice. “However, considering your own crimes, I am willing to call this even.” I eyed the man on the ground, rubbing his neck gingerly as he looked up at me with trepidation. “But if you ever make a move against Maladomini, I will have you and everyone you have ever met killed without hesitation.”

I turned on my heel and stomped out, desperate to get out of range of their cameras before the tears started flowing.

It was a lie, of course.

I was going to put a kill order on that stupid little shit the second I got back.

Preferably, before Zepar could wake up and stop me.

Behind the Scenes (scene 163)

“Black Crypts” is a name for vampire domains, like angel Heavens and demon Hells. But like the kemo grounds, the word is not quite as widespread as the others. It normally only comes up in formal situations like this.

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Scene 155- Martyrium

MARTYRIUM

SIMON

I couldn’t move.

I could open my eyes, but only the barest crack; I couldn’t see anything.

At first I thought I was tied down, strapped to an operating table with a bright light above my head, but I slowly realized that wasn’t the case.

If there were any ropes or bindings, I couldn’t feel them. I couldn’t feel…anything.

No, that wasn’t quite right. There was…something at the edge of my awareness. A bare tingling in my fingers and toes.

But I couldn’t move. Couldn’t even twitch.

And it was very, very cold.

“This is your fault, you know,” a sibilant voice hissed.

I stiffened. Well, I felt like I stiffened, anyway. I couldn’t move enough to actually do so. Was he talking to me?

“You wanted a lab rat just as much as I did,” a second voice pointed out angrily. I recognized it, but I couldn’t quite place…

You led me to believe it would work. That we’d have a grateful balor running around, not a twisted waste of flesh!”

“Honored Power, you of all people know that mistakes are often more useful to science than successes. Mister Lancaster served his purpose quite well.”

Oh no. Oh, by every Heaven and every Hell, no.

The Balor reconstruction had failed.

I had failed.

I couldn’t…what use would I be to my sister now? How could I protect her? Or myself, for that matter. After they restored me, I’d be in debt to the culture for the rest of my days even if I lived to a hundred.

Nhang—I could identify his voice now, it was the lower, hissing one—grumbled. “I don’t understand what went wrong. It worked fine last time.”

“Well, everyone is a little bit different,” the second voice replied, which I now recognized as Aramazd. That also explained the cold. They must have dragged me to the server room, so that the guardian could look over me personally. “Judging by the muscle damage, I’m guessing there was some protein imbalance we didn’t account for. He must have a slightly different diet than the other one.”

I struggled to remember what I had eaten recently that could account for anything screwing up the process, but I couldn’t think of anything.

Okay…I could find a way out of this. I could buy my way out of this debt I could…

No. There was nothing.

I didn’t really have any marketable skills. Oh, I could play around with the toy maker well enough, but every other sibriex was a thousand times better than me. I wasn’t bad with a gun, but no one would hire me for protection instead of a hellion or warblood. And my hacking skills were laughable.

There was nothing I could do that a thousand people couldn’t do better.

There was no way out of this. Nhang was going to own me for the rest of my life, and there was nothing I could do to change that.

“Well,” my warlord said with a sigh. “Point me to the garbage chute. Let’s get this over with.”

Wait, what?

“North side of the room,” Aramazd rasped. “Did you actually forget, or are you just being a dick?”

“A little from column A, a little from column B…”

The gurney or whatever I was on started to roll forward, almost certainly from someone pushing it towards the north side of the room.

They couldn’t possibly—

A shadow flitted across my vision briefly, as though someone was looking down on me.

“You think he’s awake?” Nhang asked.

“Who knows?” Aramazd’s voice was farther away now. “It doesn’t really matter. He’s got about an hour left to live no matter what we do. Though if you were willing to let me vivisect him—”

“No, I think not. We have taken more than enough from this young man already.” I felt the gurney roll to a stop. “Most of his internal organs are failing, and his heart can’t support the irregular blood flow Let him die in peace.”

“And of course, you won’t be the one actually killing him. That would be the environment.” There was a bitter, gurgling laugh, under which I heard the rusty squeak of some sort of metal door opening. “Keeps your hands pretty and clean.”

“Be silent,” Nhang spat back. “One of us is still human.”

“Only in your dreams, Honored Devil. Only in the sweetest of your dreams.”

Then my warlord gathered me up in my arms, and dumped me down the garbage chute, into the sewers some twenty-six or so floors below.

Behind the Scenes (scene 155)

Yes, another short one, unfortunately. Basically, this and the previous scene should be taken as a pair.

Scene 147 – Supremus

SUPREMUS

SIMON

“Wait, you want what?”

I stood as straight as I could, pulling away the ice pack I had been using to nurse my still-bruised face. “I want to undergo the Balor reconstruction process. Sir.”

Narek Nhang, Power of the sibriex, just stared at me.

He looked different than when I had last seen him a few weeks ago, but that was no real surprise. He was called the Unfleshed Lord for a reason; he never stuck with a single form for more than a month. He had been known to switch within hours of finishing a procedure.

Today, he had a vaguely Asian skin tone along with short (but sharp) spikes covering his arms. His eyes were solid gold, and I wasn’t completely sure he could actually see. But either way, it didn’t slow him down at all.

One of the other sibriex, a young girl who’s name I could never remember, spoke up. “The process worked perfectly fine last time. I don’t think there’s any undue risk.”

“This isn’t about risk!” the Power snapped. “Lancaster doesn’t have any money to pay for such a procedure! And I am not willing to extend that kind of credit to a brand-new demon who hasn’t even earned his keep.”

I bristled at that. “Hey, I’m not brand-new!” My Power glared at me, and I hurriedly backstepped verbally. “Uh…sir. I’ve been here two months, playing gopher and lab assistant to everyone. I helped confirm Magorian’s theories on plant-based uses of the toy maker—”

“You’ve been here two months, and you haven’t submitted a single page of original research. Reviewing everyone else’s work will only get you so far.”

“Peer review is the basis of science—”

“That’s not the point!” He stomped forward until those creepy golden eyes of his were only inches away. “I’m not going to turn an untested imp of unclear loyalty into a walking juggernaut!”

I swallowed my fear as best I could. “Sir, if you’d just let me explain—”

“Explain?” He settled back a little. “Explain what? Unless you were talking about something other than the Balor package, we have nothing to discuss.” He starting counting off on his fingers. “Enhanced strength, durability, speed, adrenaline, bulletproof skin, claws, horns, and a strong tail. Why would I give those to you?”

I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have just bit my tongue, like always.

But something about Narek’s aggressive behavior made me angry. He reminded me of the bullies from my old orphanage. Seena and I had always just run away, never confronting them. We were never very strong.

I shouldn’t have said anything.

But against this bully, I had a weapon.

“Aramazd thinks it’s a good idea.”

The girl raised an eyebrow. “Who the Hells is Aramazd?” She sighed and turned to the Power. “Knight Nhang, I can have him thrown out if you—” she stopped talking, with a sound like she was choking on her own tongue.

She had finally noticed the look our warlord was giving me.

He looked like he had just stepped on a land mine.

“How do you know that name?” He said, so quietly I could barely hear it. I couldn’t tell whether he was terrified or angry.

Probably both.

I faced him down without fear…mostly. I managed to hide it pretty well, anyway. “From the man himself, of course.” I paused, as though thinking over what I had just said. “…though I’m not sure man is the right word.”

Narek narrowed his eyes to slits. “What happened to you, Lancaster? Where is the simpering little orphan I recruited?”

I met his gaze evenly. “It…has been an eventful few days, Noble Nhang. The Composer is captured, but free enough to see and hear through the eyes of her minions. The fey have made an unexpected move, and many of my friends are dead.” I shrugged. “I can either become more powerful or die. I’m sure you understand my choice.”

My warlord took a step back in surprise. “Wait, the fey did what? I haven’t heard anything like that.”

That was odd. Yeah, it was only a few hours since the attack, but surely it would be headline news around the city.

I scratched my horns, a little self-conscious. “Uh, yeah. Their war apparently ended, with only six survivors, split into two courts. One of them, Maeve, showed up and started recruiting.” As the memory resurfaced, I felt my heart flutter. I quashed the feeling. “People…died.”

I didn’t meet anyone’s eyes.

“Hmph,” my warlord muttered. He waved his hand. “Leave us.”

The three other sibriex in the room looked at each other before the girl responded. “Uh, sir—”

Now.”

“Yes, sir.”

It only took a few minutes for the them to gather up their things at top speed and run from the room.

“Fine,” Nhang said after the others were gone.

I blinked. “Uh…sir?”

“Fine. I’ll let you go through the Balor reconstruction process.”

I swallowed my anxiety as best as I could. “Th-thank you, sir.”

“Aramazd will oversee the procedure. Since we don’t have a toy box, he’s the only one with the skill to pull it off.”

He was? I didn’t know that. I guess I had just assumed he was the culture’s hacker, and hadn’t thought it through much beyond that. But if he was just a hacker, what had he been doing for the months he was disconnected from the internet?

Playing with the toy maker, I’d guess.

“Of course, you understand what happens if you try to cross me.”

“Uh…sir?”

The Power of the sibriex leaned in close again. “I’m giving you warlord level toys here. I know what that kind of power can do.” He narrowed his golden eyes. “But your sister isn’t a warlord.”

“Is…is that a threat, sir?”

“Yes,” he said unflinchingly. “It is. I’m not letting you walk around in bulletproof skin without making sure I have some collateral on you.”

“Bulletproof skin? Really?”

The old demon sighed. “Yes, really. The package is based on the toys the Mother Monster herself has. You’ll be able to spit fire once we’re done with you.”

I managed a weak smile. I had to admit I hadn’t read the brochure as thoroughly as I should have. “So. When do we start?”

“Now,” the golden-eyed demon replied immediately, spinning on his heel and heading towards the door opposite the one the other sibriex had exited through. “To Aramazd.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 147)

I’m doing too many short ones. And they always seem to take longer to write. Why is that?

Scene 59 – Furtum

FURTUM

SIMON

The sibriex only had a single building to our name: Arhestanots, the Fleshworks. It’s right at the edge of South Middle, only a few blocks from both South-West Middle and South Central. It was pretty far from the domain of any other culture, which was a good thing. We might like playing with the toy maker, but that didn’t mean we were soldiers.

Arhestanots was a small skyscraper, only thirty stories. Our most sensitive data was secured on floor twenty-five, a floor without windows or any entrance except for one closely-watched door.

It was disturbing, really, how easy it was to break in. Obviously, I had an easier time than most due to my membership, but I had still managed to hack my way into our data center with nothing but a pad and some off-the-shelf virus programs. I couldn’t help but think it would have been much more difficult if we had even a single guard physically watching the door.

But I suppose it was a good thing it was so easy. It was Friday night. It was my last chance to steal the Helix for the Queen of Loveless, and the fey were not known for their leniency. And if there had been a guard…I don’t know what I would have done.

And I don’t want to know.

This wasn’t the first time I had done something stupid for my sister, but usually it was small things. Stealing candy when we were kids, that sort of thing. Not treason.

Well, it was too late to back out now.

I crept through the rows of servers, my breath creating little puffs of fog in front of my face. It wasn’t actually freezing, but it was pretty damn close, in order to keep the servers as cool as possible. I had never been here before, but I knew the layout well enough. Even a low-ranked member like myself had access to the blueprints.

When I reached the center of the room, however, I found out that not everything is on the blueprints.

There was…something in front of me. It was hard to tell in the dark, but nestled between three servers creating an open-faced box was a mass of pink flesh ten feet high and about five wide. It was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and smelled terrible—at least the cold dulled it a bit. Sparse hair sprouted here and there, mostly on the thing’s rounded top, which was far too lumpy and misshapen to be called a head. The mound of flesh shrank back as I watched, then expanded again, then shrank back…

It was breathing. It was alive.

Then it’s eyes snapped open, and I jumped about three feet.

They were located almost dead-center in its chest, and as big as golf balls. They were a harsh silver, matching the fog and mist of the server room, and positioned just over what I now realized was a closed mouth.

Then the mouth opened, revealing a too-large tongue and broken, twisted teeth.

“Sibriex?” the mouth asked, in a deep, rumbling male voice.

I opened my mouth to speak…then closed it again. I couldn’t find the words.

“SIBRIEX?” the creature asked again, punctuating its demand with a turret that collapsed out of the ceiling and pointed itself at me.

“Yes!” I said, finally finding my wits. “Yes, yes, I am a sibriex.”

There was a long rush of air, which I slowly realized was a sigh.

“Never get to shoot anything,” the creature muttered. Then its eyes fixed on me again. “Password?”

I swallowed. “I’m sorry?”

Password,” it repeated, and the turret whirred as it prepared to fire. “Any real sibriex would know the password.”

“I’m new!” I insisted. “I don’t know any password!”

“It is the fourth thing sibriex are taught, imposter,” the fleshy beast hissed. “You would have learned it on your very first day.”

I blinked. Wait, the fourth thing I had been taught was…

“Never leave an experiment unattended, no matter how harmless it seems?”

That rush of air again, and the turret withdrew. “Correct.” He grumbled to himself. “Never get to shoot anything…”

“Uh, right,” I said a little anxiously. “Wh-who are you, exactly?” I had been about to say what, but had a feeling that wouldn’t have gone over too well.

The mouth laughed, spewing some fluid I didn’t want to identify all over my black sweatpants and sweater. “They still haven’t told you?” The mound of flesh quivered with amusement. “Narek said they were keeping me hidden, but I didn’t think he meant from our own culture.”

I blinked. Narek Nhang was the sibriex warlord…well, I use ‘warlord’ a bit loosely. More like CEO. He was far more interested in experimenting with the toy maker than politics and violence. Then again, that described most sibriex pretty well.

“I…don’t understand why he would hide you,” I said slowly. “From anyone, not just us.”

There was a long, long pause.

The fluid on my clothes slowly began to drip onto the floor.

“Frozen hells,” the creature finally muttered. “You’re serious. Are you an idiot?”

I frowned. “No need to be rude. I just don’t get it. However you were made, you’re clearly an impressive use of the toy maker. Why wouldn’t he want to show you off?”

“You kids have skewed priorities,” he grumbled. He was speaking easier now. I wondered if that was because he hadn’t spoken in so long and needed to warm up first, or if he had just been faking before. “What do you think the Servants would do if they discovered me?”

The Servants were…hard to categorize. Based in the Cathedral, they were the closest thing Domina City had to an organized religion. Sure, we had a few churches here and there to every major religion and quite a few minor ones, but none of them had really taken root. The Servants had grown from the city itself, and thus had a much stronger following. Even though most people thought their beliefs were a bit weird, they were highly respected for their humanitarian efforts.

But what would they do if they found a creature like this?

“Probably nothing, actually,” I said slowly. They just weren’t hostile in general. “I’m not sure why you’d think otherwise. Besides, they have a lot more on their plate than worrying about one slightly creepy experiment.”

The creature laughed again. “It’s cute that you think that. Haven’t you ever wondered—wait. What’s on their plate right now?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Well, they’re pretty involved with cleaning up after the screamers. They don’t really have time for much else.”

The mound of flesh shivered. “Screamers? That a new subculture or something?”

I blinked. Huh. “When’s the last time you talked to someone, or checked Fundie or anything?”

His eyes closed. “Ahh…not sure. Six months for the internet…about a month since I saw an actual person.” The mound of flesh quivered. “But that’s not so strange. I mostly just keep an eye on our servers here.”

I rubbed my hair back. “Right…I’m guessing you stay off the internet to stay out of MC’s sight.”

“Exactly,” he confirmed. “I don’t know what she’d do to me, and don’t particularly want to find out. However,” his tone turned serious again. “You’re avoiding the subject. What are these screamers you mentioned? Last I heard the Rahabs were the only gang that was still giving Necessarius trouble.”

I closed my eyes. “Superpowered zombies.”

He chuckled. “No, really.”

“Really,” I replied seriously. “I figured you wouldn’t believe me, but its the truth.”

“Uh-huh,” he deadpanned. “I’m sure—” He stopped talking suddenly. “That’s odd.”

“What is?”

“My scans indicate you’re telling the truth. That’s very…odd.” He quivered again. “Do me a favor—see that loose cable behind you?” I searched behind me and found an inch-thick cable next to a nearby server. “Yeah, that’s the one. Hook it up to that port there, would you?”

I did as the creature suggested, and heard the hum of another machine powering up. “That your internet connection?”

“Yeah…” he muttered, his eyes distant. He licked his…I’d like to say lips, but he didn’t really have them. He licked the area around his mouth with a too-long tongue. “One second, I’m just gonna—”

He stopped. Dead.

Crap, had I killed him? “Uh…dude? You alive?”

He gurgled wetly. I couldn’t tell if that was a confirmation or one last death throe.

“I’m gonna go find help,” I promised. Hell if I knew what I’d tell anyone to explain my presence, but I’d think of something.

But just before I ran off, he recovered. “No, no, I’m fine. Just…” He swore in a language I didn’t recognize. “Dzhokhk…need a minute to digest all this.”

I could relate. The entire city was still reeling a bit. Between the biters, the burners, the bats and the bleeders…it was a lot to take in.

He spoke up sooner than I expected. “Has anyone been able to determine where these powers come from? What they are, how they work?”

I shrugged. “By now, you probably know more than I do. All I know is that Doctor Clarke is working around the clock to figure that out, but he hasn’t reported any results.”

“I need to talk to MC,” he muttered. “Wonderful.”

“Uh, didn’t you just say—”

“Let me rephrase that: You need to talk to MC for me.”

I blinked. “Wait, how’s that work?”

“We’ll set up an anonymous server that I can look at. I might not be as good as her, but I can at least make sure she can’t detect me. Then, you ask her questions.” He grinned with that mouth too-full of teeth. “Simple.”

“That’s not what I meant. Why me? Surely there’s someone else better suited.”

He grunted in annoyance. “Did you miss the part where I haven’t seen anyone in a month? Nhang and I aren’t on good terms.” He quivered. “No, you’ll have to do. Tell me your e-mail address, and we can get down to business.”

I opened my mouth to complain—then quickly shut it again as a thought occurred to me. I could use him. He’d realize I was using him, of course, but this was still the perfect opportunity.

“I’ll do that,” I said slowly. “But first you have to do something for me.”

There was a short pause.

“This is the part where you tell me,” he said after a moment, annoyed.

I winced. Not the best start. “Right. I need a copy of our Helix. Without there being any trace it was copied.”

He licked his teeth. “Hm…simple enough. Of course there’s always the risk…I assume you have a flash drive ready?”

I almost said yes, but thought better of it. “No. I don’t have any with the spare space.”

“Good,” he said, quivering in what I thought was a nod. “I half expected you to try and upload a virus.”

That was my worry too, actually. I could imagine plenty of reasons the Queen of Loveless would want the record of the sibriexs’ experiments—but I could think of many more reasons why she would want the creature that kept an eye on our servers dead or incapacitated in some way.

One of the servers that made up his little nest spat out a flash drive, which I retrieved carefully.

“That has everything you need,” he promised. “Check it, if you like.”

I did, plugging it into my pad and scanning through it quickly. It was just text, which I was thankful for. My programming skills were sub-par, but it was harder to hide things in a pure text file. A quick glance was enough to tell me that it at least seemed in order.

I removed the drive, pocketed it, and bowed deeply. “Thank you very much. I look forward to working with you.”

“And now for your end,” he prompted. “Your screen name?”

“Obyrith576,” I replied without hesitation. “Spelled the normal way.”

“Hm, good,” he muttered. “Found it.” His eyes darted up to my face. “When’s the last time you updated your picture?”

I winced. Long before I got my skin and hair cosmos, that was for sure. “Maybe…a year?”

He rolled his eyes. “Well, this is clearly you. I’ll contact you soon and give you instructions for the interview.” His tone had a sense of finality to it, and I knew it was time to go.

But before I did, a thought occurred to me, and I turned back to him. “What’s your name, anyhow? You never said.”

He grinned, too many teeth shining in the dim lights of the servers. “Aramazd.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 59)

This took much longer than it had any right to.