Chapter 28: Recovery
The mood inside the apartment was somber, Kid had locked herself in the bathroom and refused to come out, and Katrine was sitting quietly at the kitchen table staring blankly at a wall. They were all witness to the hell that Ellie experienced and they felt scarred, even Kid and Vee, seasoned soldiers, were rattled to their cores. Vee sat next to the unconscious form of Bolt, staring sadly at the TV as Ellie tore away Tuition’s dog tags and wrapped the chain tightly around her wrist. She could feel tears bubbling from her eyes as she watched Ellie’s massive hands cradling the man’s lifeless face. After a few silent minutes Bolt began to stir.
Vee quickly wiped her eyes and put a tired smile on her face. She spoke in a quiet calm voice. “Hey there, how’re you feeling?”
Bolt groaned and massaged her temples. “It feels like my brain was sucked out of my skull by a vacuum cleaner.” Her eyes fluttered open; she squinted as her eyes acclimated to the light.
Vee felt her frustration with Bolt begin the boil, she tried to restrain it but she was too tired. “That was real stupid of you, y’know,” she snapped. ”You should have waited for the others.” Even she was startled by the anger in her voice.
Bolt’s eyes widened, she’d never known Vee to raise her voice at anyone. She stuttered, “You know me; I was never one to wait for those slower than me.”
Vee raised an eyebrow a frown tugged at the edges of her mouth. “Baby that’s the kind of thinking that gets people killed. That’s the kind of thinking that got you killed.”
Bolt looked sheepish. “Yeah.” She sat up, surveying her new world; it was much smaller than she remembered. “Well I guess I’m stuck here now.” Her voice was resigned.
Vee got up and sat on the futon. “Perhaps… Wulf is taking your body to Banthu, hopefully Ellie will follow soon after, we might be able to get you back in your body.”
Bolt got up and sat beside her. “But…”
Vee shook her head. “No Bolt, you don’t want to be here.” She looked sadly around the apartment. “We’re all grateful to still be alive but we’re stuck here, I don’t want you to be stuck with us as well. We’re going to have Banthu repair the damages to your physical body and then we’re going to try until the end of time to get you back in it.” Her tone made it apparent that she did not want an argument. She continued, “We’re trying to improve things in here, but I doubt it will be enough to cater to four of us, five including Ellie.” She paused. “Please don’t tell her any of this, the last thing she needs are more problems.”
“Ok, for you,” Bolt said quietly.
On the screen the two could see the Sons’ ATTV carefully rolling through the battlefield towards Ellie, as it pulled up the two could see the side door open and Juvinea wave Ellie over. Ellie took one final look at Tuition and gently laid him on the ground. Ellie pulled herself inside the ATTV and slumped to the floor inside the large storage bay, she pushed herself to the back wall. Juvinea shakily walked over and sat beside Ellie.
She placed a hand on Ellie’s massive shoulder. “Hey,” she whispered.
Ellie’s voice was distant, “Hey.”
Ellie let her head slump. “It’s all so stupid… nobody had to die… we didn’t want anybody to die.”
“Oh, sweetie, it wasn’t your fault.”
Ellie’s tone was accusatory, her body stiffened in anger. “I talked to those men who talked to Burke. It’s my fault that this all happened.”
Juvinea’s tone was firm. “No! You can’t blame yourself for the actions of somebody else, you can’t let yourself get wound up in what-ifs, none of this was your fault. Things could have been so much worse, don’t forget that… never forget that.”
Ellie pulled her legs up and hid behind her knees, she began trembling as she sobbed, letting the shuddering of the ATTV jostle her around. Juvinea continued to whisper to her, trying to lift her spirits, soon though Juvinea stopped and simply sat beside Ellie. After several minutes the vehicle came to a slow stop once more, the door opened and the rest of the Indra climbed aboard, their mood sullen. Ghost and Pixia sat flanking Ellie and Juvinea while the rest settled against the various walls of the storage bay, all were exhausted. A terse silence hung in the air only to be broken by Anon slumping to the ground, dead to the world.
“That’s my line,” muttered Lethe before promptly slumping over.
Juvinea looked around at the wilted Indra. “How about you all get some rest, you’ve more than earned it.”
Ghost leaned in close to Juvinea, disregarding her attempts to get up. “That’s an excellent idea,” she whispered. She was asleep before she even finished the sentence.
Juvinea tried to push herself up but Ghost had her pinned down, she was heavier than she looked. She sighed. “Oh well, I suppose it could be worse.” She side eyed Wall. “C’mere, let’s get you comfy.” She pulled the unconscious Ghost in closer, wrapping her arm around her shoulder.
Juvinea felt a strange rumbling coming from Ghost and Ellie, not quite audible; it almost resembled the purring of a massive cat. Finally resigning herself to her fate of rest she cuddled into Ellie’s massive arm and closed her eyes.
Juvinea awoke to an incredibly stiff neck, Ellie and Ghost were gone and she was wrapped up in a utility blanket. She was mildly touched by the consideration of the Indra but quickly found herself completely tangled in the massive swathe of cloth. She struggled from the massive cover, flopping around like a fish; she was beginning to wonder if it was more for restraint than for comfort. Her wild struggling startled the cleaning technician who was reclining in the driver’s seat not doing his job.
“Whoa! Jay-jay! Where did you come from?”
“Ey, Borgia, hard at work as usual?” She quickly torqued her neck from side to side, sharp cracking bounced through the cargo bay.
Borgia cringed. “You alright?”
She let out a small groan of satisfaction. “Oh, that felt wonderful.” She unsteadily stood up, pushing the blanket down her waist like an unwanted pair of pants. “Do you know where the Indra went?” She gently leaned against the wall flicking away the rest of the cover that was valiantly clinging to her leg.
Borgia reclined in the chair. “Erm, I know a few went up to Mr. Schultz’ office and a few are in engineering, I’m not really privy to the goings on around here.” He shrugged.
She finally got the cover off; she kicked it to the corner of the cargo bay. “Yeah, I know the feeling.” She threw open the side door and stepped out into the massive loading bay. Before she went off in search of the Indra she called back into the ATTV. “Are the elevators back up?”
“Nope! Sorry, you’ll have to take the stairs.”
Juvinea let out a sigh and meandered down the beige corridors, occasionally peeking into the doorways, most were vacant though some contained engineers and scientists bustling away as if everything was normal. She reflected on the past several days. She paused… Several days? It all felt so much longer. She pushed open the door to the stairwell, the sounds of conversation and footsteps echoed throughout the massive tube of concrete. Looking up and down she could see spirals of stairs stretching to infinity. Up it is. After no less than twenty-five minutes of clambering up the stairs Juvinea’s legs were burning. Only a few floors to go, when this was all over… elliptical!
She pushed open the door to Engineering level 7 and made her way to her sister’s workroom. Peeking her head around the empty doorframe she saw that the room was empty. Marjorie’s office? Empty. The lounge? Empty. Her own workroom? Empty. There was no way in hell that she was going to brave the stairs again so she sat down at one of her worktables and began tinkering. Eventually she wadded up an old burlap sack she had for some reason and rested her head on it and fell back asleep.
She was awoken a short time later to a small, nearly imperceptible, sound, the quiet hiss of her door opening. She snorted slightly, quietly fuming; she lifted her head up to stare at the intruder. It was only Lethe. He froze when he saw her rise up from behind one of the piles of junk festooning her worktables, it didn’t help that she looked absolutely wild with her hair sticking in every plausible direction. Her eyes widened when she saw it was him, she quickly patted down her hair and wiped at her mouth, she was horrified when it came back wet. She ducked back behind the pile of junk and flipped over the burlap pillow, hiding the dark drool stain.
She poked her head back up again, this time followed by a small wave. “Hey.” Her voice cracked. She screamed internally. Clearing her throat she tried the art of speech once more. “Hey, what’s up?”
Lethe finally found his voice, he wasn’t expecting Juvinea to actually be in her workroom, he’d thought the cover he wrapped her in would keep her still long enough for him to retrieve her. “Erm… I was just going down to Banthu’s lab to see if he can fix Bolt, I was wondering if you’d like to join me and see the master at work.”
The chair flew backward as Juvinea leapt to her feet; perhaps she was a bit too eager though. The chair smashed into another of her worktables and an avalanche of parts and wiring tumbled to the floor. The two stood and watched as almost the entirely of the table’s contents spilled onto the floor. After thirty seconds of clattering and rattling the wave of junk finally stopped, a silence descended on the room. They stared silently at the mess on the floor.
Juvinea nodded. “And that’s why my sister calls me a klutz; I think I finally get it now.” She turned to leave, brushing past Lethe. “I’ll pick it up later… funny thing is, I probably could have pulled anything from that pile at any other time and it would’ve stayed solid, but right now, at this very moment it decides to collapse.”
Lethe chuckled as he closed the door. “You’re a well of bad luck.”
She scoffed. “Well? Try bottomless pit.”
Many floors beneath Juvinea and Lethe’s feet a motley crew made their way toward the central computer core. Schultz and Marjorie, with Ghost, Pixia, and Death escorting them, picked their way through the gag inducing wreckage of the Gammas. The surface of the biomass had long hardened, creating a thin easily breakable shell covering the thick foul mess.
Pixia gave Ghost a little nudge. “I’d recognize your handiwork anywhere.” She groaned as her foot broke through the crispy shell and was submerged in the thick ropey gunk.
Marjorie was getting excited at the memory. “You should’ve seen it; it put the Horsemen’s fight with Schultz to shame. Thirty of ‘em all at once!” She was interrupted as Ghost picked her up and lifted her over a particularly nasty pile of shredded metal and rotting biomass. She was shaking slightly as the caffeine supplements took effect.
Death made the sound of clearing his throat, halting Marjorie’s exaggerated recollection. “Yes, we all know what Ghost is capable of.”
Pixia made a soft seething noise. “Ooh, that felt passive aggressive.”
Death cocked his head in confusion. “Wait… what? No…” He nearly tripped on a small pile of shredded steel.
“Are you jealous?” There was a coy edge to Pixia’s tone.
Ghost put Marjorie down and placed a calming hand on Pixia’s shoulder. “Down honey.”
“Sorry, it’s just that things have been so serious these past couple of days, I haven’t been able to let loose in a while.” She gave her wings an impatient ruffle.
Death gave her a hearty clap on the shoulder. “Soon, but right now things are still all business.”
“You have until sundown,” Pixia intoned ominously.
Schultz let out a chuckle, using surgical staples and an eyepatch he’d managed to hide most of the major damage done to his face though he still insisted that it could be fixed. “Good god, I wish my cabinet could sort things out as fast as you lot.” He gave a jagged piece of metal a kick; it lodged itself in the wall. “I don’t know how but you Indra seem more human than they are.”
Pixia corrected him. “It’s not your cabinet anymore Laverne, you’re just the mouthpiece, a mascot.”
Schultz let out a sigh. “I had intended on resisting the change… but it seems Burke, in his infinite stupidity, made up my mind for me.”
Ghost spoke before Pixia could snap off a snarky remark. “I overheard your conversation yesterday in the camp; you said that you trusted Burke.”
Schultz grinned wolfishly. “That I did. It seems I’m not quite as infallible as I’d previously thought, what with both Sullivan and Burke turning on me. He’d convinced me that he’d put the city ahead of both myself and his own ambitions, turns out he was an excellent actor and I an optimistic fool. The actions he took in the crater were his alone, I do not condone them, I simply cannot, such wanton slaughter is repugnant.”
“What about Knossos?”
“Oh, that.” Schultz looked wistful. “Probably my greatest success believe it or not. I sacked the city without firing a single shot, and I razed it long after the people had all left. I hate to sound pretentious but they thought I was a god… believe me it wore thin very quickly. The moment those people entered my care their quality of life increased dramatically. The opinions of history have not been quite so kind to what I did, but I feel the ends justified the means, if only just that once. When the foundations were finally laid, I let those who yearned for a different life leave, though I’m happy to say most wished to stay.”
Death shook his head. “History is rarely kind. I wonder what those who came after us thought of what we were and what we did.”
Pixia shrugged. “Well they never brought us out of retirement so they either forgot or figured it was best we stayed buried.”
“Yeah, we did some pretty messed up stuff… just thinking of what they had Famine do…” Death shuddered. “Sickening. And besides, we didn’t leave the military on the best terms.”
Everything was quiet for a moment, save for the click of Schultz heels on the tiled floor. Finally Schultz spoke. “Death, when we get a moment, I’d like for you to tell me about the past, what it was like back when you Indra were in operation. I’ve always been curious but I never found the dry official writings to be quite engaging enough, I’d like to hear your story.”
Death’s response was terse. “Perhaps… If not myself than perhaps some of the others, I’ve learned through experience that venting can be a wonderful stress reliever.”
Schultz rubbed the back of his neck. “Is that what you call it?”
“Don’t complain Schultz, at least you’re still alive.”
Schultz raised his hands disarmingly. “Hey, look, my boy can work wonders; he’ll get your brother back. It shouldn’t take too long; he doesn’t have to steal from engineering anymore.”
Marjorie scowled. “It still astounds me that that doddering old janitor is your son.”
“Acting runs in the family.”
They turned the corner and were faced with the long hallway to the computer core. The walls were shredded and the floors were covered in a strange powdery substance.
Ghost crouched and whisked up a small amount of the powder with her finger, she held it to her scent receptors and gave it a tentative sniff. She recoiled. “Ooh, Schultz that’s just dirty, Flouro’s a cheap shot.” She stood up and looked at the bottom of her foot. “And I was wondering why my feet have been itching.”
Schultz raised a finger. “Cheap but effective, to be fair, I never actually expected anyone to try and attempt what you lot did, almost all of this was for show. Even the door, it’s not mounted to anything, just drywall and a few girders.”
Pixia began picking her way through the mess; the hallway was too small to take flight. “Laverne, you’re a regular peacock.”
Schultz sighed. “We both know I have no idea what that is.”
Ghost lifted Marjorie while Death picked up Schultz; carefully they made their way through the bitter smelling powder, making sure not to let any of it touch exposed skin.
Marjorie let out a tired sigh. “AA and Flouro, what’s next?”
Schultz’ eyes widened slightly. “Oh, is that what you were after in the arsenal? Wow you really weren’t messing around.”
Death put down Schultz in the wrecked doorway. “Indeed, if all else failed we intended of detonating it and you by proxy.”
“Hopefully not all at once.”
“No, Scorn talked us out of that.” Death patted his hands around his waist. He stopped. “Um, the detonator was on my belt, Marjorie, did you happen to see it anywhere?”
The group froze.
Marjorie’s eyes were wide though her voice was dangerously calm. “Death, I want you to retrace your steps, right back to the crater, it might have fallen off when you threw away your weapons to fight.”
It was Ghost’s turn to stiffen. “Oh no… Burke. I took him back to the center after I got him; he seemed rather squirmy for a second.”
Without a word Death and Ghost took off running down the corridor.
Death yelled over his shoulder. “You three finish up here and meet us up in the holding cells!”
Schultz, Marjorie, and Pixia ran to the control console.
Marjorie input a complicated series of commands and spit on an exposed sensor. “I’m starting her in dummy mode, voice commands won’t work, but the lights, computer network, and elevators will be up and running. Laverne, we’ll have to come back later to scour your voice imprint from her.” Several lights turned green and a low hum reverberated around the chamber.
Schultz nodded. “Fair enough.”
A deep, bassy, thud echoed down the hallway and through the destroyed doorframe, Marjorie could feel it reverberate in her chest. The three felt a terrible sinking feeling at roughly the same time.
Quick as a flash Pixia took flight. “And that’s our cue to get moving! Schultz I’m throwing you across.”
He raised his arms up. “Fine by me!”
Pixia lifted Schultz and flew full speed at the doorway, she stopped suddenly, launching Schultz over the Flouro covered floor. Marjorie came sprinting after them and virtually leapt into Pixia’s waiting arms. The group sprinted down the corridor to the elevators, completely ignoring the shredded Gammas. They drew upon the doors in short order, their feet making meaty slapping sounds as flecks of biomass sprinkled on previously spotless wall. Schultz made a mental note to raise the cleaning staff’s salary. The door opened with a cheerful ding revealing a shredded mess of bullet holes and a massive hole punched in the floor.
“Your Ellie’s handiwork, we’re not waiting for the next one, it’s not like we could make it any worse.” Schultz squeezed along the edge of the hole, digging his fingers into the metal. “I already fell down this shaft once, and I’m not eager to do so again.”
Pixia straddled the hole and kept Marjorie pushed against the side.
Schultz yelled, “Detention level A!” The elevator remained still.
Marjorie shook her head. “Voice commands aren’t on, you’ll have to select it manually.”
“What’s the code for the detention levels?”
She let out an exasperated sigh. “Oh let me do this.”
Marjorie squirmed along the wall until she was within arm’s reach of the floor selector; flipping through a small colorful menu she selected ‘Detention Level A’ on the touchscreen. She looked over at Schultz “We haven’t used the code system in a long time.”
The elevator jerked into life and began lifting the three up to the detention levels.
Marjorie tapped at the screen a few more times, inputting a code. “Alright, we shouldn’t be stopped I set priority on our floor.”
Schultz grunted in approval. “You’ve really been busy.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Laverne, honey, I basically run this building. How do you think we took everything down so easily?” She laughed and smiled in disbelief. “I even built escape tunnels… and nobody questioned it.”
Pixia spoke up. “And yet another lesson in putting too much power in the hands of one person has been learned, thank goodness you’re mostly benevolent.”
Marjorie scoffed. “Pfft! Me benevolent? Not on your life sweetheart.” She could feel Pixia pushing her tighter into the wall. “Oi, don’t get any ideas.”
Pixia’s voice was the epitome of innocence. “Hmm? Oh, I’d never do that.”
The doors opened on a scene of absolute chaos. A massive, near spherical space had been evaporated from the inside of the building, leaking into the floors above and below.
“Yep, that woulda killed me real quick,” Schultz muttered.
Death ran over to the three. “Burke’s gone, he was playing up his meltdown do keep us off guard, he had the AA detonator. We don’t know where he is, by now he could be anywhere in the building!”
“I’ll scope out the tunnels, I can get there the fastest!” Pixia pushed Marjorie and Schultz out of the elevator, poising herself on its lip she neatly jumped through the hole in the floor, plummeting down the shaft.
Marjorie shook her head. “He knows the layout of this place as well as I do, there are more ways out of here than you Indra can cover. He could be halfway across the city by now.” She turned to look at Schultz. “Is the military still guarding the border?”
Schultz shook his head, brow furrowed. “No, we pulled everyone for the meeting; nobody’s guarding anything for a while.”
Marjorie pulled off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry Death, but he’s gone.”
Death smashed his fist into the nearest wall, it promptly crumbled. “Dammit!” Several ceiling tiles fell from their housings, one broke over his head, not helping to improve his mood.
She hurriedly put her glasses back on and put a reassuring hand on Death’s shoulder. “He can’t hide forever, the communications network will find him eventually, all we have to do is wait for him to pop back up.”
Schultz sighed in resignation and turned back to the elevator. “There’s nothing more we can do here, let the repair teams do their thing. I’d like to speak to my grandson about reestablishing trade with the Shalti, do either of you know where he’d be?”
Death shrugged, burying his frustration. “Probably in the guest quarters. I’m due down in Banthu’s lab, we need to see if Bolt can get back into her body, but we’ll get you settled with your grandson first.”
Marjorie furrowed her eyebrows. “What happened to Bolt.”
“She went and got herself killed.” Death said nonchalantly.
“You don’t sound very surprised about that.”
He crossed his arms. “Honestly I’m not, the way she’s been going, it almost feels like that’s what she’s be angling for.”
“You can fill us in on the way up!” Schultz yelled from the elevator.
Unaware of the events taking place in the floors above, the bulk of the Indra crowded around the small doorway leading to Banthu’s tiny lab. Inside the room Banthu was hunched over the still body of Bolt, carefully inspecting the wound. He carefully felt around inside the hole, feeling for something. Ellie was kneeling nearby waiting for the prognosis.
Inside the apartment, Bolt was staring intently at every movement Banthu made a small scowl was plastered on her face. “Does he have to be so…” She made vague hand gestures.” Eh, about it?”
Vee sat next to her cross-legged on the arm of the futon. She raised an eyebrow. “If by ‘eh’ you mean careful, then yes. He’s probably inspecting the hole to make sure nothing vital was damaged.”
Katrine sank into the futon next to Bolt. “It’s a matter of life and purgatory; of course he’s going to be careful about it.”
Bolt squinted her eyes. “He’s totally enjoying this, look at that glint in his eyes.”
Vee massaged the bridge of her nose. “That’s called concentration sweetie. You really don’t get out much.”
Her scowl deepened. “It’s just weird is all.”
Vee slid down into the futon, pushing Bolt and Katrine over. “Bolt, look at what you are, where you are, I think him poking around your dead body is the most normal thing about this situation.”
Bolt sighed. “You and your damned logic.”
Vee poked Bolt in the forehead. “Maybe if you started using this, you might find you have a bit of logic tucked away in there as well.”
Bolt swatted the finger away. “Stop poking me.”
“Oh? And what’ll you do if I don’t?” Vee started poking Bolt all over. “I will poke you till the end of time!”
Katrine watched as the two devolved into a mess of giggling and poking. Pretty soon Bolt began poking back, eventually the two fell onto the floor laughing.
Kid poked her head around the corner, making eye contact with Katrine. “And this is why I stay away from my extended family! Ya’ll’re weird!” She ducked back around the corner.
Katrine looked back at the TV; quickly she reached for the remote as she saw Banthu talking to Ellie.
His tinny voice filled the room. “—while the board is completely undamaged, the bulk of her fiber optics have been severed, cleanly mind you. If she’d been hit anywhere else the damage would be irreparable, but I think I have enough resources to fix the cabling, the biomass will fill in over time, I used up my last fixing Wall’s arm.”
Ellie nodded. “Do it.”
Banthu got up, his joints popping. “Now this is a deceptively simple procedure. I must be careful to make sure each thread goes to the proper output, otherwise when she goes to move her leg she could wind up swinging her arm, she could adapt but it would be best to keep things the way they were.” He shuffled to a small bubbling tank and pulled out a thick wad of stringy fiber optics. “Now as soon as I complete this you’ll have to send her back immediately to see if the threading takes. We might have to do this several times.” He looked over at Ellie. “Are you ready?”
Ellie nodded somberly.
“All right then.” With neither pomp nor circumstance Banthu wadded the stringy mass up and shoved it Bolt’s chest cavity. “Done.” He looked up at Ellie, a smile began to stretch across his wizened features.
Ellie scrambled up. “Wait, what about what you just said?”
Banthu cackled. “I was just messing with you!” He sat at his desk, a nefarious twinkle in his eye. “No, you Indra are foolproof. Get her back in there and the wiring with rethread perfectly. That little chip in your head built you once, and it can do so again.”
Ellie could hear Wall chuckling, she looked over at him. “Wait you knew?”
Wall shrugged. “Well yeah, he did the same thing with my arm. I was just wondering how long he’d play it up for.”
Wulf reached up and gave Wall a slap on the back of the head.
Wall turned around and looked at the others. “Alright who did that?”
The Indra were silent.
Ellie let out a small huff then a small chuckle. “Alright, let’s get this over with. When we’re done here we’ll have to see about getting War back in his body.”
“Oh, what happened to War?” Banthu’s voice was sad.
“Well, for lack of better phrasing, he got cut in half. Marjorie was going to remove his board t—.“
Banthu’s humor evaporated. “Wait she removed his board?!”
Ellie shook her head. “No she couldn’t get around to it before we had to flee the city.
Banthu sighed in relief. “That’s just a simple reconstruction job then, if she’d removed the board then we would have had to rebuild his entire body. I won’t need nearly as much biomass.”
Lethe pushed his way into the room, Juvinea trailing close behind him. “Also, doctor, where did you get your biomass from?”
Banthu looked thoughtful. “Well, most of it is synthetic, lab grown proteins and amino acids, to be honest I stole most of it. There were several compounds that couldn’t be synthesized but were readily available in my rabbit stock.”
Lethe cocked his head to the side. “You breed rabbits?”
Banthu had a bit of a smug air about him as he responded. “I’ve been known to dabble, I’m a geneticist by trade and you Indra are just a hobby.” He turned an accusatory eye to Ellie. “I had to halve my flock just to get the necessary proteins and compounds.”
Ellie hunched slightly. “Sorry,” she whispered apologetically.
Lethe deflated slightly. “I was worried that you were doing things the old fashioned way.”
Banthu curled his lip. “Ugh! Never, that’s simply barbaric.”
Ellie reclined against the wall once more. She spoke before Lethe could respond with more questions. “Well that addresses one of the elephants in the room, but there’s still one more.”
An eyebrow was raised. “Oh? Ask away.”
“Katrine, how did you get her brain?”
Banthu stroked his chin. “Hmm, yes I can see how that would be suspicious. I think it was mostly pity that led me to choose her. She died of natural causes, brain aneurism; she just dropped dead in her lab. I snuck into the morgue; I had business in the hospital and secured her brain.”
Ellie didn’t like how he said ‘secured’.
“Wouldn’t it be damaged from being dead for so long?”
Banthu nodded. “Incredibly so, but experiments on rabbit brains led me to discover that the biomass would ‘fill in the blanks’, which would account for how some things seem permanent in her mind. You told me that there is an entire apartment that she can manifest in, that’s because of the biomass. She’s almost as much an Indra as any of you are.” He waved over to Bolt’s body. “Now go on and get Bolt back in there.”
Ellie stood and moved over to where Bolt’s body lay. She placed her hand on Bolt’s forehead and waited. Inside the apartment Bolt stood in front of the door, tightly hugging Vee.
Vee began pushing her towards the door. “It’s not like you’ll never see me again, stop being so clingy.”
“I think at this point you’re the one hugging me.” Bolt raised her arms to show Vee hadn’t let go.
Katrine had snuck up behind the two and had silently opened the door. Kid sat on the bed, intently watching what was about to go down.
“You let your guard down…” Vee said quietly.
Her face was a mask of confusion. “Wait… wha-“
Vee hurled Bolt from the apartment where she quickly melted into the darkness of the void. With a start, Bolt woke up in her own body. What struck her first was not the pain, but the inability to move her body.
Banthu was suddenly above her. “Just keep trying to use your body, the more you work at it the faster things will mend.”
Bolt focused on her left arm, just trying to raise it. She heard a soft snap from her chest and her left arm rose up. Then she tried the elbow, then the wrist. A cascade of snapping filled the room as the cabling snapped into place. Bolt pushed herself up, dangling her legs over the edge of the table; it seems death had left her body no worse for wear, apart from the massive hole in her chest. Ellie came over and pulled her from the table, Bolt landed solidly on her feet. She gave them a few stamps in approval, the contents of a nearby shelf rattled slightly.
Bolt began stretching; she was still a bit stiff. “Well then, I’d say my resurrection has been a resounding success.”
Banthu cleared his throat. “Indeed, though I’d recommend testing your body somewhere that isn’t my lab.” He turned to look at Ellie, specifically her leg. “Now we just have to get you back in once piece and we’ll be golden.”
Ellie leaned back against the wall. “I don’t want it back.”
Banthu scowled. “What?”
She shrugged. “I’ve gotten used to it, actually I rather prefer it. All I need right now is a suitable crutch.”
“You wish to remain crippled?” Banthu’s voice was monotone with disbelief.
Banthu sighed. “Well, you are your own person, you can make your own choices, but if you do reconsider…”
“I’ll know where to find you.”
The slapping of bare feet could be heard moving through the corridors. Pixia blitzed around the corner and ran to the others. “Burke got away!” she yelled.
The Indra stirred, those that were sitting down leapt to their feet, instantly alert.
Ellie thrust her head through the open doorway scattering the few that couldn’t move out of the way fast enough. “What!? How did he manage that!?”
“The little shit got his hands on the AA detonator, he used it in the holding cells and slipped away while everyone was distracted.”
Banthu spoke before the others could get too worked up. “If he’s loose in the building then that means he could be anywhere. When did he escape, roughly speaking?”
“About twenty-five minutes ago.”
Banthu settled back into his chair. “There is no way on this good green earth that you’ll be able to find him, not even if there were fifty of you. Let the communications network and Intelligence do their thing, he’ll be found eventually. It’s no use worrying about it.”
“But I am worrying!”
Banthu groaned in annoyance. “Then keep looking, you’ll never find him.”
Pixia ran off, followed by several others, Famine, Lethe, Ellie, and Bolt stayed behind. Juvinea, frankly, having no stake in any of what had just gone down simply stood to the side and watched everything go down.
“And the rational ones have been revealed.” Banthu muttered.
“Oh, no,” said Bolt. “I’d be right there behind them but the horrendous pain in my chest is a bit of a limiting factor.”
“No, no, I’d say that still makes you one of the rational ones.”
Ellie gently clapped her hands together. “Well, I’m going off to the lounge; I’m long overdue for a good night’s sleep, and call me crazy but you all are as well.”
Lethe shrugged. “Yeah, fair enough.”
Juvinea stepped inside Banthu’s room. “If you don’t mind I’d like to have a little conversation with Banthu here, I’ll come back up later.”
Ellie looked down at Bolt. “Feel up for a little walk?”
“Sounds like fun.”
Chapter 29: Follow Your Dreams
A week passed and Burke was never found. It was assumed that he escaped into the flatlands, or went deep into hiding somewhere in Alcadon. Ellie was languishing in the lounge as she’d done so many times before, struggling to find something to do, the crushing weight of boredom seemed to be pulling heavier with each passing day. She withdrew into the apartment; she grabbed the crutch leaning on the doorframe and plunked down on the futon next to Vee, who was getting her portrait done by Katrine, she was pulling a ridiculous pose. The floor and walls were covered in sketch paper and the new door in the far wall was still barred. Kid was napping on the bed as per usual.
“Careful!” Katrine whisper-yelled. “Don’t disturb her, I’m almost done.” With a few more flourishes Katrine put down the worn-out stub of a pencil. “Alright, come and take a look.”
Ellie and Vee got up and peered at the drawing. Immediately Vee began slapping at Katrine, the drawing was of a horse holding the same pose she had. “You butt! You made me sit still for over an hour!”
Katrine shielded herself from the slaps. “What? I think it looks pretty good, I think I nailed the head shape.”
Vee began chasing Katrine around the apartment. She lunged and caught Katrine around the waist; they tumbled to the ground near the bed laughing. The sound of the scuffle awoke Kid. She emerged from the sea of covers like an ancient eldritch creature and swan dove into the scuffle.
All the air left Katrine’s lungs as Kid landed squarely on her. “Pooh! Ooh, Kid, heavy, too heavy!” She was pinned down and was struggling to roll off Kid’s deceptive bulk.
“Ten outta ten!” yelled Vee.
Ellie hobbled over and sat on the bed, Kid leapt from the scuffle and sat beside her. “It’s nice to know you guys are keeping yourselves entertained.”
Katrine struggled to her feet, still breathing heavily. “Yeah, almost dying every day really makes you appreciate the little things. How are things on the outside?”
Ellie fluttered her lips. “Oh, well things are going back to normal, a couple of the others left, Wulf and Scorn returned to the north, though what Scorn intends to do up there is anybody’s guess.” She shrugged.
Vee nodded her head. “Maybe trying to patch things up with the Tcha’Gough? What about Bolt, did she decide to stick around?”
Ellie shook her head. “Nah, you know Bolt better than any of us. She said she was going to travel south to Shiim, Wall decided to accompany her, though chaperone would likely be a more appropriate word.”
Vee laughed. “Oh, I can just imagine the arguments. They’ll do alright. What about everybody else?”
“Everybody else is sticking around for the time being. Hmm, lemme think, uh, Lethe is basically Schultz’ official ‘minder’, whatever that means, and Xypia’s his bodyguard.”
Katrine screwed her face up in confusion. “Didn’t Schultz break Xypia’s neck?”
Vee looked back at Katrine, a devious glint in her eye. “He’s probably waiting for the perfect time to strike… Like right now!”
“Eh, fair enou- Wha!”
Vee snatched Katrine’s legs, yanking her from the bed and threw her over her shoulder. She landed heavily on the floor, all the air knocked form her lungs.
Her voice was strained. “That was a dick move.”
Vee laughed. “And don’t I know it.”
Ellie watched the two, eyebrows raised in bemusement. “You two should really take up wrestling or something.”
Katrine peeled herself off the carpet. “She making good on the promise, I never realized how rough she likes it.” She blushed when she considered the wording of her previous statement. She quickly changed the subject. “How’s Lethe doing with Juvinea?”
Ellie shrugged, the innuendo flew straight over her head. “He won’t say, he just clams up and changes the subject.”
Katrine put Vee in a surprise headlock. “Aww, he’s totally in love. What about our other lovebirds?”
Ellie smiled, she couldn’t help it. “Actually they’ve settled down, they’re trying to live a normal life in the city, if such a thing is even possible. Last I heard, Pixia was arguing with city officials about rent.”
Katrine sighed. “They’re so cute together; it was nice of them to make you the best man.” She gave Vee a rough noogie.
Ellie raised an eyebrow at the two, she was rather worried at how red Vee was getting. “Um, do you two need some time to yourselves?” Kid quickly excused herself to use the bathroom.
“No, I think we’re done.” Katrine released Vee and fell back onto the floor breathing heavily. “You’re getting slow.”
Vee’s face was red as a tomato. “Hey, to be fair I’m a little rusty. I spent half a century standing in a river then I died.” She coughed a few times and went to the kitchen to get some water. “What about the Three Amigos?”
“They’re working with law enforcement now, doin’ a damn good job of it too. From what I’ve been hearing, Nicky Town is almost habitable again. Before you ask… Banthu’s still working on War, he said he ran into a few complications whatever that means, but he’s still optimistic.”
Vee took a long drink. “Ey, that’s great. Oh, what about Anon?”
“He’s going to university, something about becoming a surgeon, and a chef.”
Vee went back to the futon and stretched out. “Y’know that’s what he was initially meant to be, back in the old days. Sadly he stood out too much, I think it’s great that’s he’s back pursuing his old passion.”
Ellie scrunched her face. “Wait, a surgeon or a chef?”
“Surgeon,” Vee replied, she smiled at the thought of Anon being a combat chef.
“Yeah, that makes a bit more sense.” Ellie nodded feeling rather silly.
Vee nodded her head at Ellie. “And what about you?”
Ellie threw her arms up. “I have no idea.”
Katrine sat down next to Vee. “Eh, we’ll figure something out.”
There was a knocking on the door.
Katrine gestured for Ellie to go. “Better see who it is, we’re not presentable right now.” She scrunched her face at Katrine. “Pooh, you need a shower.”
Katrine put on an exaggerated look of offense. “Look who’s talking.”
“You both stink!” yelled Kid from the bathroom.
Ellie returned to her body to see Ghost standing over her, she was bouncing up and down excitedly. “Hey Ellie, could you give me a hand with something?”
She pushed herself into a sitting position. “Yeah, what’s up?”
Ghost leaned down and whispered something.
Ellie shook her head in confusion. “Wait, you want me to do what?”
“No please, hear me out…” Ghost held out a small grey box with a long metal protrusion.
Ellie held the small device in her hand. “You want me to go to a bar… with this?” If she had eyebrows no doubt one of them would be raised incredulously.
Ghost nodded eagerly. “Yeah… it’ll give a molecular reading on the alcohol.” Her voice turned hesitant. “I was hoping Katrine could do me a favor and mix a few drinks.”
Ellie sighed deeply, Ghost had never asked her for anything, it didn’t feel right just saying no. “Just a moment, I need to speak to her about this.” She withdrew into her thoughts.
She entered the apartment where Vee and Katrine were just getting up from the futon; Kid was lounging on the bed listening in.
“Well what do you think? Could you do it?” asked Ellie.
Katrine shrugged. “Well it depends on the complexity of the drink; if the thing does give an accurate molecular reading then it should be a piece of cake with just about anything. I doubt any of them are as complex as those antibiotics I made earlier, and as you can see I’ve been practicing.” She gestured the immense amount of paper everywhere.
Vee spoke up, thoughtfully tapping her chin. “Ghost has been after alcohol for a very long time, since before we were put under. I’d say she’s waited long enough, let’s humor her.”
“Alright we’re agreed?” Ellie looked over at Kid who nodded excitedly. “I hear no objections, let’s do this.”
Ellie left the apartment to the sound of clinking glasses as Katrine retrieved a tray and a handful of shot glasses. Apparently they were gifts from her great grandmother.
Ellie’s vision faded in on Ghost quickly pacing around the lounge. “Alright Ghost, we’re all agreed, let’s take you drinking.” She stood up, pulling her heavy duty crutch under her arm.
Ghost rushed for the door. “Excellent! I know just the place.” She threw the door open, smashing it into Pixia who promptly fell backwards rubbing her chin.
“Oi, watch where you’re swinging that thing, I only got one ‘a these.” She’d expected Death or Pestilence to be behind the door, but was entirely surprised with Ghost flitted from the room.
“Sorry!” Ghost barely looked down she was so eager to be off.
Ellie hobbled behind her, stopping next to Pixia. “You OK?
“Yeah, what’s gotten into her?”
Ellie sighed. “I’m taking her drinking.”
“Hah! Of course she’d be excited over that.” She sighed, pulling herself up. “Don’t let her overdo it; I want my cuddle buddy back in one piece.”
“It’s not her I’m worried about.” Ellie quickly hobbled after Ghost who had just rushed around the corner. “Damn, wait up!”
Ellie stared at Ghost with a sense of Puzzlement. While she’d definitely improved from the crushingly depressed mess hiding beneath a heavy cloak, Ghost was still very shy and withdrawn, but there she was, nearly running down the sidewalk. The amount of stares the pair were drawing would have made anyone cower in embarrassment but Ghost completely ignored them. Ellie was filled with feelings of pride and confusion, but mostly pride.
“So do we need to bribe you with alcohol to get you out of that cloak now?” Ellie called after Ghost who was now jogging down the sidewalk.
“Perhaps…” Ghost called over her shoulder. She poked her head down several dark alleys until turning sharply into the fifth. “This way!”
Ghost rushed down the alley, stopping at a small set of stairs. She leapt down the stairs, and threw open the door. Ellie turned the corner to see an empty alleyway, Ghost had seemingly vanished.
“You’re worse than Kid,” Ellie grumbled.
“Oi!” Kid yelled from inside the apartment.
Ellie snickered and swung down the alley, she could see a small light coming from one of the several stairwells lining the pocked road. Ghost’s cry only confirmed Ellie’s suspicions.
“My precious!” She gazed longingly at the glimmering wall of booze.
The patrons of the bar turned in absolute shock. The bartender’s jaw was completely slack. Ellie squeezed through the door behind Ghost, giving her a little nudge to get her moving. Ghost moved as if in a trance to the bar, Ellie following closely, careful to close the door behind her. Ghost sat at one of the empty stools while Ellie, due to her size, stood.
Ghost’s voice was quiet and filled with an uncharacteristic amount of wonderment. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this moment.”
The bartender, after some stuttering, found his voice. “Erm, can I ‘elp you ladies with anything?”
Ellie nodded. “Yes, we’d like a few drinks.”
He inhaled, that was not the answer he’d expected. “It’s not my place to point out, but neither of you ‘ave mouths.”
“We have a way.”
The bartender sighed, silently mourning the alcohol that was about to be lost. “Alright, what’ll you ‘ave?”
Ellie placed a hand on Ghost’s shoulder. “Restraint,” she said firmly.
In the end there were fourteen small glasses of alcohol on the counter in front of the two, with colors ranging from green to red to purple. Ellie made Ghost only get half shots so as not to waste too much alcohol, the bartender was all too happy to oblige.
“Alright, I’ll get Katrine on it.” Ellie looked to the bartender. “I’m sorry but we may be blocking the counter for a while.”
The bartender pulled out a tray and placed the glasses on it. “’ere, let’s get you to a booth.”
Ellie kicked herself for not thinking of that sooner. “That’s an excellent idea.”
Ghost sat in the booth, bouncing eagerly as Ellie followed the bartender back to the bar. She whispered to him, careful not to let Ghost hear. “There is a chance that what we’re trying will actually make her drunk, it’s slight but possible. Do you have anything that’ll sober her up?”
A thin smile spread across the bartender’s face. “That I do, I never thought I’d see an Indra take it though, here lemme mix it real quick.” As he was mixing he remarked. “I’ve never seen her out of that cloak.”
Ellie huffed, leaning on the counter. “Yeah, it seems the only way to get her out of her shell is through alcohol.”
He looked back at her, eyebrows raised though his eyes were half closed. “I’d recommend curbin’ that ‘abit.”
“Ellie! What’s the holdup!?” Ghost called across the room.
“Nothing!” She dipped the metal rod into the small glass of brown sludge and stared at the readout for a minute. She thanked the bartender and then made her way back to Ghost.
Half an hour later all of the drinks had been analyzed and Ghost made her way to the apartment, where all fourteen were lined up on the counter in the kitchen.
Katrine had her arms crossed a stern expression on her face. “Now, I would please ask you to exercise restraint, and don’t trash the place,” her voice was more no-nonsense than usual.
Ghost approached the glasses, eyes wide. “Which do I choose?”
“Whichever one’s prettiest,” blurted Kid.
“That’ll work…” Ghost picked up a glass filled with a deep green liquid and downed it in a single gulp.
She stood stock still, her eyes bugging out. She made small wheezing noises and managed to rasp out, “Sour… very sour.” She placed the glass back on the counter and picked up a beep burgundy one, which she also downed in a single gulp. She was still again, then stiff as a board she tipped over face first. She rocked on the carpet for a few seconds before relaxing.
“I think she’s having trouble comprehending what’s going on,” said Katrine as Ghost pushed herself off the floor.
She placed the glass on the counter, her eyes were worryingly crossed. “I really liked that one.” She grabbed another.
Over the course of an hour all of the glasses were emptied and Ghost was passed out on the floor piss drunk. She had been covered in a blanket as around halfway through her tasting she’d begun to remove her clothing, much to the surprise of everybody present. All involved were rather regretting allowing her so many shots. Vee was sitting next to her keeping her from wiggling too much.
Ellie pulled one last shot glass from the fridge; it contained a thick grey liquid. “I think it’s time we woke her up.”
Vee looked dubious. “Honestly I doubt it’s going to do anything, I’ve heard that an electrolyte megadose is the best for something like this. But then again, we aren’t human.” She shrugged, she didn’t like seeing Ghost like this, it felt wrong.
Katrine had started to look a little worried. “I know a little about some of the stuff in that. I’d recommend as soon as she downs it to get her the hell out of here.”
Vee looked to Katrine. “That bad huh?”
She shook her head. “Worse.”
Vee turned to look at Ghost eyes wide.
Ellie crouched down and gave Ghost a few slaps to the cheek, Ghost roused from her drunken stupor.
She spoke quietly, as if one would to a child. “One more, then we’re leaving.”
A drunken grin was plastered on Ghost’s face. “Mmm-hmmm.”
Ghost opened her mouth and swallowed the wake up shot, her face immediately screwed up in disgust, she still swallowed, the taste was par for the course with a few of the drinks she’d had. As soon as she swallowed Ellie lifted her, blanket and all, and sprinted to the door. Both Indra came back to their bodies, and Ellie did the same as in the apartment. The barkeep and patrons were surprised by this sudden movement.
“She took the wake up shot, and I don’t want her to be in here when it hits!” Ellie shouted to the bar.
Ghost began convulsing in her arms.
Ellie’s voice was sing-song in panic. “Oh no, oh no, oh no!”
Ellie laid Ghost down in the alley. The barkeep and patrons crowded around the door to watch the show. A sickly pink aura enveloped Ghost as she shook and wiggled on the ground. A small crater formed as the force of Ghost’s energy pressed on it, a small whirlwind of powdered concrete hid her from view. Dull thudding could be heard as Ghost thrashed and beat upon the ground, chunks of debris shot from the cloud and smashed into the nearby wall. As quickly as it started the shaking stopped, ghost lay still for a moment.
Ghost peeled herself from the ground and jumped up and down, arms raised. “Whoo-hoo! That was fucking awesome.” Her voice was still slurred with inebriation; she stumbled forward a few steps and fell flat, cracking the pavement once more.
“D’you wanna give ‘er another wake up shot?” asked the bartender from the doorway.
Ellie looked at the prostrate Ghost. “I think she’s had enough for tonight. What do I owe you for the drinks?” She had a terrible realization as she hadn’t brought any money, she didn’t think to.
The bartender thought for a moment. “Given how strange this situation is, I’ll give’m to you on the house.”
“I appreciate it.” Ellie kneeled and threw Ghost over her shoulder and hobbled out of the alleyway.
If the two drew strange looks before, things were now on a whole new level. The mumbling, incoherent, shouting from Ghost didn’t help matters.
“We’ve gotta find you a hobby. I don’t think alcoholism’s your forte.”
“What are you looking at you stupid bird!” Ghost yelled at a stray cat.
Pixia flitted nervously around the Schultz building, waiting for Ghost and Ellie to return. After what felt like an age she finally saw Ellie emerge from one of the many side streets, coming towards the Schultz building. Her relief quickly turned to confusion and then fear as she saw the mostly limp Ghost slung over Ellie’s shoulder. She sped toward the two.
She landed awkwardly and ran towards the two. “What happened!?”
Ellie readjusted Ghost. “Well… she got drunk; at least she’s a fun drunk if that’s any consolation.”
Pixia cradled Ghost’s head. “Oh, baby, next time I’m coming with you.”
Ghost muttered something drunkenly, it vaguely resembled something like, “lub ya too sweaty.”
Ellie began moving toward the front door. “Let’s get her inside, someplace where she can’t yell at animals. Please don’t make a scene.”
“No promises!” yelled Ghost.
Ellie was silently thankful that Marge still hadn’t been brought online, she was still in dummy mode while Marjorie made extensive changes and repairs, the grilling she would have dished out in the elevator would have been legendary. Carefully making her way down the hallway, Ellie tried to avoid as many people as possible, no witnesses. Finally she got to the lounge and after carefully wrapping Ghost in one of the available blankets she began poking at one of the communications terminals. Ellie looked over her shoulder and saw Pixia concernedly holding Ghost’s wrapped up form; she was mumbling something Ellie couldn’t quite hear. Ellie turned back to the terminal and flipped through several registries before landing on that of the Law Enforcement office… She grinned internally.
Death, Famine, and Pestilence all crowded around the barely conscious Ghost, Pixia was still holding her in her lap.
Death looked incredulously at the drunk and slurring Ghost. “Well I’d say this is unexpected but…” He threw his arms up in a shrug and shook his head.
“I think she wet herself,” said Pestilence.
Death looked over, metaphorical eyebrow raised. “And how would you know?”
“Call it intuition.”
“Yes, let’s.” Death looked over to Ellie. “I appreciate you doing this for her, she’s been trying for this for years, and maybe now she can shut up about it. But I think you may have gone a bit overboard, fourteen shots is far too much even for the strongest of humans.”
Pixia looked up sharply. “Fourteen! She should have known better than that.”
Ellie shrugged. “I had no basis for her alcohol tolerance, I still don’t really know too much about humans. But…” She tapped her temple. “Free bar.”
The four were silent for a second.
“I’m game,” blurted Pixia.
“Sounds like fun,” said Pestilence.
Famine nodded its head. “I too am curious at the human’s affinity for alcohol. I think I’ll have a small taste.”
Ellie looked to Death. “C’mon, live a little.”
His shoulders slumped. “The irony…. alright.”
The four entered the apartment.
Katrine stood before them the table had been moved to make a mock bar. “Alright ladies, gentleman, children, and…” She looked at famine. ”… others, bar’s open! My personal recommendation is this.” She slid forward four glasses filled with a small amount of a deep burgundy liquid.
Death squinted his eyes. “Don’t think we can’t see that wicked smile on your face Katrine.”
Katrine plastered a look of innocence on her face as the four picked up the glasses and in unison gulped them down.
One by one, looks of shock twisted their faces; Kid had her face buried in a pillow to muffle her wild belly laughs. Pixia fell first, stiff as a board straight on the floor, followed by Pestilence and Death. Famine stayed standing; they shook their head as their features relaxed.
“Refreshing,” Famine said as they placed the glass back on the table.”I think I’ll have another.”
Lethe entered the hospital; he was amazed at how empty it was compared to the last time he’d visited. The crime rate had plummeted as the city began to recover; the Three Amigo’s had more than a hand in that. He drew up on the front desk where a nurse was tapping away at her computer.
“Excuse me, could you tell me where Irma Shtumpf is? I believe she was in long-term care but I don’t know her room number.” He asked quietly.
The nurse looked up, eyes widening slightly when she saw who was asking. “Certainly.” She clicked a bit with her cursor and looked back at Lethe. “She’s in room 567 floor 5.”
Lethe gave a small bow of thanks and moved to the elevators. The ride was as jerky as before, but that was fine by him. The door opened and Lethe puttered down the hallway, looking for the woman who rediscovered him. As he rounded a corner he saw something that made his stomach sink, room 567, people were positively spilling into the corridor, several of whom Lethe recognized from Juvinea’s floor. It was an absolute rogue’s gallery, people from all walks of life… Perhaps the stories he’d heard were true. He rushed over and began trying to push through the small crowd; there were a few grunts of annoyance until the people saw who he was. There were many looks of sadness as Lethe drew up on the bed.
The amount of machines she was hooked up to was incredible, machines for pumping and cleaning her blood, artificial lungs, a small heart monitor beeped steadily. Her eyes were quick and alert, watching her colleagues mill about and joke amongst themselves. Her eyes lit up when Lethe shouldered through the crowd.
“See… I tol’ ya he’d come,” she muttered weakly. “You lot said ‘e wouldn’t, bu’ ‘e made it,” her voice was triumphant.
Lethe knelt next to her and took her tiny frail hand, it was so cold. His voice was little more than a whisper, “Hey, how’re you holding up.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, finally found yer voice didjya?” She let out a sputtering laugh. “’Ow my boys ‘ave grown.”
Lethe leaned in close and whispered something in her ear.
Her eyes lit up. “Oh, she allus was th’ lucky one, tell ‘er paren’s eh, they nee’ ta know mor’n I.”
Her eyes grew glassy and her breathing began to weaken, the heart monitor began to speed up.
Lethe pressed his head to her hand, feeling her weakly beating heart grow fainter. He leaned forward once more and pressed where his lips would be to her forehead. “Thank you,” he whispered in her ear.
She smiled eyes slowly closing. “Well now, I’ve been kissed by ‘n Indra, beat that.” Her features went slack.
Lethe felt her hand grow limp in his, her fluttering pulse stopped. “Goodbye Irma,” he said quietly and left the room leaving the others to mourn.
Banthu swept through the halls and rooms of the Department of Engineering and Archaeology. He was lucky, lucky that his son owed him a few favors and allowed him to continue his research. He silently cursed his father for being so impulsive, his restoration of War was taking far longer than he’d expected, the Gamma had ruptured the power core and Banthu was having a devil of a time finding a new one. He sighed; if Marjorie Fitsch couldn’t find one then he might be stuck for a while. He glowered for a moment… maybe Morgan’s survived? In the distance Banthu heard a door open and shut.
He stiffened in surprise; there shouldn’t be anybody on that floor at such a late hour, all the overnight and cleaning staff were on the upper floors. Another door, and another, Banthu could hear faint footfalls, not the soft click of shoes but the slap of bare feet. Banthu felt his hackles rise, whoever it was that was blundering through the halls wasn’t there by accident. He began shuffling for the nearest room to hide. Just as he was about to open the door to the nearest lab Banthu heard the door to the hallway open… and shut, the footfalls sped up.
“Doctor Banthu!” It was a woman’s voice.
Banthu turned to face this intruder. He immediately wished he hadn’t. The woman’s thin body was clad in nothing but the tattered rags of a tunic and a threadbare cloak. He felt a spark of familiarity as he saw her face. Slicing up across her face was a massive scarred gash, her nose was virtually destroyed and her eye was gone entirely. Her mouth was a massive cavernous maw stretching across her face, filled to the brim with sharp black teeth. Despite her frail form the woman walked with power and elegance, her footfalls seemed to shake the ground Banthu stood on. No, she was shaking the ground with each step; the pane of glass in the door shook and rattled with every footfall. What was this woman?
As she drew up to Banthu, standing a good six inches over him, she spoke again. “Are you Doctor Banthu?” As she spoke, Banthu could see a thick, glistening, black tongue writhing around her mouth.
He shrunk against the door. “Y-yes, I am Banthu. What do you want with me?” He was not a spiritual man but even he couldn’t justify a creature such as this existing.
“Make me like her,” she growled.
He tried to keep his voice from trembling. “Like who?”
“Make me like my sister, like Ellie.”
Banthu’s eyes widened. “Medusa?”
“Yes,” she hissed. “That was my name.”
“But Ellie told me you died to kill Havoc, was she lying?”
“No…” Her voice quieted, losing much of its angry edge. “As far as she knows I am dead, and I hope to keep it that way.”
Banthu ignored the thinly veiled threat. “How do you want me to make you like her?”
“A brain… I want a brain like Ellie; I don’t want to be… this.” She gestured to her whole body. A thin stream of tears was running from her good eye.
Banthu squinted at her, his scientific curiosity had been piqued, tears? “There is no guarantee that such a thing would work, your chip has been overheated and shorted for so long that it might be irreversibly damaged.”
She took a trembling breath. “Do it anyway! The only thing keeping me from tearing you and everybody else in this building to shreds is that piece of her still inside of me.” She clenched her hand, it began trembling.
“The part you tore from her at Knossos?”
“Yes, it has changed me, given me thought.” She paused then shook her head. “I feel alien in my own thoughts!” She relaxed her hand, a small dribble of blood splattered onto the floor.
Banthu looked at the crimson blood then back at her, he let out a long sigh. “Very well, I know where to get a brain, let me take you to my lab and we’ll make preparations there.”
Hours later, deep beneath the Schultz building, through winding tunnels and tight corridors a tiny light shone from beneath one of the rusted doors. It was a fairly rudimentary operating room, definitely not up to most safety or sanitation standards but none involved were particularly worried about such things. Inside the small room were two heavy tables, upon one lay a body, covered in a white sheet, the donor, upon the other was the woman formerly known as Medusa. She seemed highly adverse to her old name though she wouldn’t tell him what she preferred to be called. As he was getting ready Banthu filled her in on the events that had taken place in Alcadon over the past month, he felt himself grow unusually chatty. She laid quietly on the table, listening politely, asking several questions but always deflecting when he asked her anything. He felt a small giddy joy build up inside, a feeling he’d not felt for many years. Silently he thanked Medusa; in her quest for conscience she would also unknowingly lift a great weight from him.
He pushed his feelings to the side, he was ready to begin. “OK we’re ready. First I need to locate your main cable bundle, I’ll be able to graft some of my own onto the main trunk and implant the brain, the tricky part will be getting through your skin, I’m not sure if any of my tools can get through it. I might have to break out my circular saw.”
“Don’t worry doctor; I can help you with this part at least.” She raised her arm and positioned her hand over the bottom of her sternum. She pulled down hard and punched through the skin. Groaning in pain she said, “Alright doctor, the rest is up to you.” She felt herself drift away as the doctor set to work.
Several hours had passed before Medusa awoke. Immediately thunderous pain rocketed across her body, it felt as if somebody had hollowed out her chest. Craning her neck to see her midsection she saw that her stomach and chest had been expertly bandaged, turning her head she saw the other table was now empty. Banthu sat at his tiny desk, head in his hands, he was muttering to himself.
“Doctor?” Her voice was raspy. “Was it successful?”
Banthu turned around and looked at her, his eyes glossy and tired. “It’ll take time; the brain took no problem, but whether that changes anything? Only time will tell.” His mouth flapped as he tried to find the proper words. “I don’t think you could be called an Indra anymore. I hope you don’t mind, I poked around a bit. You’re so much more… you have lungs, a digestive system, oh if I had the time to study you in depth… You’re almost…” He trailed off, he shook his head and grinned. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go, I still have a job to do on the surface.” Banthu got up to leave.
She pushed herself up onto a bracing elbow; her chest was a roiling mass of agony. “Doctor, who was she?”
Banthu turned in the doorway. “She was my daughter.” He left the room.
She sat in stunned silence, his own daughter? Jumping from the table she made to go after him but the pain brought her to her knees. She limped to the door, looking outside she saw only dark corridors in either direction, the doctor was nowhere to be seen. Turning around she saw something on the small desk highlighted by the bright lamp, a photograph. The picture was of a middle-aged man, undoubtedly Banthu, and a young woman, presumably his daughter, sitting in a small boat laughing. She turned the picture over, there were several splatters on the back where tears had hit the paper, written in pen was ‘the day of’. Medusa didn’t know what the writing meant but clearly the picture meant a lot to him, as did his daughter.
Scanning the room some more she saw her old ragged cloak and a set of clothes. She put them on, they were a bit snug but they would do, she pulled a small circuit board from one of the pockets of the cloak and left it on the desk. She looked around the room one more time, her eyes landed on a roll of cloth bandages. She tightly wound them across her face, covering her mouth and eye. She grunted in satisfaction and left the room, turning off the light as she went. As she made her way through the maze of tunnels she felt a weight on her chest, cutting beneath the pain of the surgery, was it the brain? It must have been, the thought of a life being taken for her made her feel something she was unaccustomed to, sadness. A life had been taken for her; the one that died had no say in it. Her thoughts trailed back to her rampage at Khim, her mind was filled with the agonized faces of those she killed, and her sadness swelled even more.
“So this is what it’s like… how everybody else views the world… I am a monster.”
She soldiered on, swallowed up by the murky darkness.
Chapter 30: The End
The merchant’s mouths were agape as the traveler finished her story. The fire burned low and their pipes had long grown cold. As if rousing from a trance the group blinked and shook their heads, thousands of questions pulled at their minds. The sky brightened as dawn approached, a sharp wind blasted at their backs.
“I’m terribly sorry my friends, it seems my story has cost you a night’s rest.” The traveler stood up and stretched. “I’m afraid this is where I take my leave, I wish you the best of luck in your business ventures but I must be on my way.” She turned to leave.
“Wait! Is your story true?” One of the merchants asked, his voice desperate.
“Every damnable word.” The traveler replied over her shoulder.
“How could you know? You weren’t there, you couldn’t have been there.”
She raised her eyebrow, a smile tugged on her obscured features. “Well, I wasn’t there for all of it but I have very good sources.” The cloth wrapped about her face had bunched up and was falling away.
The lead merchant stepped forward, his brow furrowed. “Are you…?” His mouth hung open; he couldn’t even finish his question.
A glistening black maw could be seen between the cracks in her mask, a thick black tongue shot from beneath the folds, lifting them slightly. She gave them a cheeky wink and vanished around one of the carts. The merchants shot to their feet and rushed after her.
She had vanished without a trace; the faint sound of her chuckling could be heard over the gentle breeze…
One of the merchants huffed. “Well how’d she manage that then?”
The head merchant shook his head, a small grin on his face. “Damn them… Damn them all.” He turned about and squinted as the distant city. “Alright lads, we’ll make Alcadon by sunup tomorrow, let’s look sharpish, we’ve got quite a story to tell.”