“God Damnit.” Were the first words out of Quiet Joe’s mouth as he stared at Raedi Faran-Sesko, The Abiogenesist.
“Back so soon? I didn’t know you were so fond of our brief time together.” Raedi said with just a hint of snark as he stood in front of two doors partially hidden in shadow. The left side of his face still disfigured but otherwise he looked unharmed by their previous encounter minutes earlier.
Joe’s first instinct was to attack immediately, but he didn’t. His previous encounter was a half remembered dream when awake, but here he knew what happened. He decided silence was better than thrying to strangle this thing, so he just didn’t respond to his remark.
“Cat got your tongue? Ah well I suppose we can get right into it then.” Raedi snapped his fingers and the room changed. Before he it everything rippled as if it were a dream sequence, and before Joe knew it he was standing in a field of grass that extended as far as the eye could see in every direction. The sky was blue the sun was hot and everything felt as a nice spring day.
“What the…” Was all that Joe could get out a strange viscous purplish black ooze began welling up from the ground at his feet. Joe immediately took a step back from the growing puddle. The thing bubbled slightly, and whatever odor it was emitting frankly disgusted him.
“Oh don’t be that way. It’s just a little primordial soup.”
“That’s disgusting.” Joe mumbled as The Abogenisist stepped into his line of site on the other side of the pool of the worst pudding ever.
“Well it’s part of the game, so I guess you’ll have to live with it.”
“What are we doing?” Joe finally asked. The resignation in his voice was almost as disheartening as him not being able to pumble the cane swinging asshole in front of him. Joe could see a grin form on the lips of the right side of Raedi’s face.
“I’m so glad you asked.”
“No, as you can see all of this department’s paperwork is in order. All in triplicate for the correct officer with an approved budget by the management office.” Leah repeated for the eighth time to the militia captain assigned to inspect The Labs. This one was a less common sight amongst the militia he was surprisingly short, and not particularly in shape. The Captain was winded just from the walk through to the red mana department. He must have gotten the commission through a connection somewhere down the line. Not that it mattered here. Whether he was here from merit or connections his job was to harass the mages working, and waste Leah’s valuable time babysitting. He was doing a fantastic job in both regards.
“And what is it that this department does exactly?” Leah suppressed the urge to sigh as she turned to face this nuisance. She had to remind herself that this review needed to go as close to well as they can manage. Any more trouble could be disastrous.
“This department covers red mana. The magic governing destruction magic. Largely we use this department for defensive purposes. We can use the spells developed here to protect our scouts when they travel away from the city, and has the added benefit of us being able to develop counter measures for those same spells.”
“Uh-huh…. And why is any of that necessary?” The Militia captain with a monotone boredom asked.
“Because The Sundering attack had a variety of different creatures that attacked and killed a large number of people, and allowing our magical development that protects us to stagnate could result in the total destruction of the city and the deaths of all of its inhabitants if an attack of similar scale occurs.” Leah gave a practiced monotone reply.
“That seems unlikely.” The captain commented dismissively.
“I’m not here to discuss the likelyhood of another attack. I’m here to escort you and answer any questions you have as you conduct your inspection of our facilities.”
“Uh-huh.” Was his only response as he fully popped the cork off of a bottle of an unknown yellow liquid off of a work station and sniffed it. He then jerked his head away and made a gagging noise. “Ugh that smells awful.”
“You’re sniffing month old chimera urine.” Leah suppressed the urge to laugh at the idiot who opens bottles of liquid to smell.
“Why would you keep something like this?” He asked irritatedly as he slammed it on the desk without the cork on it. The contents of the glass container flew everywhere covering both the desk and the Captain. Luckily Leah had been standing a few feet behind him, so the smelly pee missed her entirely. It wasn’t long before a string of swears with varying levels of creativity sprung from his mouth.
Leah while silently amused, looked back at the door seeing Beatrix quietly trying to get her attention. She walked over while her charge was distracted.
“Hey uhh…” Beatrix began to say before becoming distracted by the spectacle unfolding in front of her.
“Quickly Bea I don’t know how long that’s going to preoccupy him.” Leah said in a low but assertive voice.
“Right, sorry Leah.” The doll responded with a forced smile as she scratched the back of her head. She was better than most dolls with expressing the correct emotion for a given situation but it could take a minute sometimes. “You have a call from an away team. The person on the other end was told to contact you or Mike if Nick was busy.”
Leah looked back at her charge as he dug up a roll of paper towels from the opposite end of the room, and began wiping his face. Poor guy has no idea that the musk in that urine will stick to him for weeks.
“This is kind of a bad time how important is this?” Beatrix just shrugged with her eyes closed and a frown on her face as if that was a good enough response. “A frown is a sign of displeasure. It doesn’t work when you’re trying to be indifferent.”
“Oh right, sorry. I don’t know. His broadcast was pretty weak, and he kept saying he has strict orders to only speak to Nick, Mike, or you. I told him he was already breaking orders by talking to me then, but he wouldn’t budge.”
“You said it was definitely an away team, and not a border patrol?” Leah cut in before her friend could continue down her train of thought. She was a nice girl, but she can really go down the rabbit hole when she gets going.
“Oh definitely, our patrols have already contacted us five minutes before he called. That, and I could hear Cecil in the background saying something about big bugs.”
“Wait Cecil from Blue mana department?”
“Yep.” The young blonde responded suddenly looking very bored with their conversation. Leah sighed, she guessed Nick had slipped a few other low level researchers out of the rolls to go with Max on his stupid tracking mission.
“Alright I’ll be down there in a few minutes. I just need to deal with some things first.”
Something’s definitely going on. Nick thought to himself as he fiddled with the lock of his apartment door. The mid-afternoon city council meeting was canceled abruptly, and suddenly there were three times the normal number of militia out enforce. Even weirder there was a lockdown order for the doll and mage residential districts. They might be planning a contraband raid again while the inspection of the Labs was taking place, but that would be a needlessly stupid thing to do without notifying him. The last time they tried was a testament to that since it resulted in more than a few injuries as the dolls don’t react as expected in stressful situations.
The well oiled door swung open easily as soon as Nick managed to get the lock open. There were so many things going on it was hard to keep track of it all. He had been distracted ever since Tom’s sudden arrival and even more sudden departure. He felt his attention had been pulled in so many different directions Nick failed to immediately notice the assailants in his flat before two of them grabbed him and a third punched him in the face.
The third man reeled back holding his now broken hand letting out a scream in pain. He was soon replaced by a fourth attacker wielding a wooden basball bat who broke it over the metal construct’s skull. Nick briefly looked bewildered at them as they stared at the splintered bat and Nick’s unphased expression. They had a mix of confusion and horror on their faces, as they didn’t know what to do next, likely not planning that far ahead. Then after a second of thinking about the situation it dawned on Nick.
“Oh! This is a coup.” Nick declared before punching the much larger man to his right with his only fist in the stomache. He doubled over as Nick returned his elbow into the chest of the other man holding him. He fell over gasping for air as the one armed mage stepped forward to the guy holding the broken bat, who threw the useless item at Nick’s face.
It bounced off rather comically. He looked like he was going to say something before Nick headbutted him into unconsciousness. With three of the four men on the ground Nick looked at all of them. They wore the uniforms of the milita, meaning they were probably here under orders to arrest him.
Fear gripped the last militiaman as he fell over on the floor wetting himself over the sudden turn of events. Nick stood over him with a look of bored displeasure.
“I….” Nick kicked him in the face before he could speak. He fell over knocked out with the others.
After a few minutes rounding up his attackers and tying them together, he left his room with a few items he cared to bring.
“I guess it’s time.” He muttered to himself as he closed the door, and walked down the hall.
Joe felt rather disgusted by his creation. With the primordial soup he had been able to mold a creature with his thoughts and accelerate evolution at an impossible rate. Soon the tiny little slug thing it was before had become this mass of writhing tentacles and teeth. It was probably the biggest thing he had ever made and he was going to use it to kill whatever Raedi had made, and if he was lucky Raedi too. Although that seemed unlikely given the beating Joe had received at the hands of his captor.
“Time’s up! Are you ready?” The Abogenisist called from behind a giant rock where he had been working. Joe didn’t respond deciding silence would probably irritate the cane wielding asshole more. “I guess you are then!”
He called out happily as his opponent walked around the boulder. He might have had a matching expression if Joe had bothered to look. He may have a happy upbeat personality, but it didn’t change the fact that he was just another thing holding him captive. It was all the more irritating that it had only been a year since the last time someone did it to him.
“Alright here goes. When I say go our creations will fight it out. Last one alive wins. No spells once the fight starts. Do you understand?” Joe gave a grunt. That was about as close as he was going to give Raedi a response. “Excellent! Okay I am going to count down then. Three…. Two…. One…. Go!”
As soon as his opponent said go Joe’s monster went into action. It quickly rose to the size of a minivan. It had tentacles protruding in seemingly random locations throughout its body. He could see muscle ripple throughout its main body as it hunched back down on to all fours and charged at Raedi. In a flash it was right on top of him ready to kill the only discernible target. And just as suddenly an even bigger creature easily twice the size of his own burst from the ground stabbing the monstrousity he had made in dozens of spots. Before long even though it looked like it had barely been harmed his tentacle monster was on the ground writhing in pain before giving one last gasp and dying.
His creation was easily defeated and just laid there at Raedi’s feet. Before long a black haze emitted off of his dead pet and it quickly desolved into nothing.
“Oh to bad looks like you didn’t make it sturdy enough.” Joe felt a flash of anger at The Abogenisist. He had about fifteen different insults ready to go before he had even opened his mouth.
“Again!” Was all he said instead. The word had slipped out of his mouth rather unexpectedly, surprised both parties. He was annoyed at the Eldrazi and wanted to shut him up.
“Good, lets continue.”
It had taken some time, but Leah had finally managed to slip away. She had to hypnotize that idiot captain to stay in place till she got back, but she had done it.
It was an annoying 3 minute walk to what was considered the communications center. Which was little more than a small office with four radios a, pair of computers, and three people sitting there at any given time to operate them. The job was generally uneventful but important given the potential threats that probably existed beyond the city walls.
Inside Beatrix was spinning around in an office chair in front of her radio station while the other two operators were playing what looked like black jack. When the door shut suddenly they were standing trying very hard to hide the deck of cards sitting on the table between them. Beatrix for her part stopped spinning in her chair at least as her counterparts stood at attention.
“It’s fine.” She told them as she walked over to Beatrix’s station. “Is he still on the line?”
“Yep.” The doll responded rather bored as she stood up for Leah to take her seat.
“Thanks Bea. Can you stand outside for a few minutes I need to take this in private.”
“Okay.” She responded suddenly sounding happy as she walked out of the room. The other two radio operators sat back down at their stations monitoring their respective radios again.
Once everyone was where they were supposed to be, Leah sat down and fed some of her mana into a small nub sticking out of the desk. Almost instantly a bluish semi-opaque curtain of energy surrounded her and the station she sat at.
With this, no one but a doll could see or hear what was happening at the station. This privacy curtain allowed Leah and other higher up mages to take important private calls without being spied upon. It was never really used but Nick had demanded at least one station have the enchantment for some reason. His paranoia seemed to have paid off this one time though.
Leah gave herself a minute of breathing in and out slowly allowing, her nerves to calm. She was annoyed with Nick for sending Max and his team out to begin with, but that wasn’t any excuse to take it out on the away team. She was a professional after all.
“Away team this is Leah. Do you hear me?” Immediately she heard a garbled message with what she assumed was Max’s voice fading in and out. He must have gotten pretty far if their reception was this bad.
She waited another minute before she began to feed her mana into the radio hoping to boost the signal. Max’s voice became somewhat clearer as he repeated his message over again.
“I repeat, there’s a large wave of shifters heading straight for Volst coming from the flood-planes traveling at high speeds. I don’t know how long it is until they get there.”
Nick wandered from his apartment into the main thoroughfare leading downtown. It was subtle, but something was definitely happening. More patrols were spread throughout the streets leading to the mage and doll districts. It looked as if they were trying to section off what might be problematic places in the city.
Although those weren’t the real threats to Volst. He supposed it wouldn’t matter much longer. He had created a house of cards by carfefully balancing the needs of mages and dolls against the sensibilities of non-mages. Nick knew the situation was delicate and ultimately unmaintainable, but he had hoped for more time.
He wondered how the real Nick would have handled things. He was just a copy after all. Would he have given so much ground to the City Council? Would he have bothered to begin with? It probably didn’t matter anymore. It had been almost two years since he had gone missing. He must have known something was going to happen if he had put so much effort into building him in the first place.
Nick sat down on his favorite bench. He knew eventually the City Council would have made a move against him. He had made himself too big of a target not too. It’s not like he was blind to the change in their demeanor since The Sundering. He Had made a lot of people unhappy with each choice he made. He supposed that’s part of governance.
“Okay Cid, come on over you can sit down.” Nick said to the boy standing a few yards away near the fountain.
Cid was a young looking doll that visited him every day. Unlike most of the dolls that appeared he didn’t look a day over twelve. There weren’t many children on the campus when they had been transported, and there were even fewer in Volst. So the ones that remained were very much protected. After nearly losing everything they had come to the grim realization that they probably weren’t going home. That idea had been small and nagging at first, but despair had a way of crushing hope. Every life mattered now more than ever. Like it or not dolls were needed if they were going to have the genetic diversity to survive more than a few generations.
Cid walked straight over to the bench. He may be protected, but that didn’t mean anyone paid him much mind. He was basically just a child after all even if he was the same age as all the other dolls around him. He didn’t speak as he sat down. His short dark brown hair was a greasy tangled mess and shined slightly in the sunlight. He was thin but still in that awkward stage of being all knees and elbows as his body grew into becoming an adult.
“Geeze Cid, I’ve told you a hundred times you need to bathe daily. You have a pass to the Labs. Any of the transports would take you there to let you use the showers and get free meals.” Cid just looked at the councilman with a slightly cocked head as if Nick had been speaking a foreign language to him. Cid was what Nick liked to call a “functioning mute”. He did not speak unless he absolutely had too. Every day Nick had his lunch on the bench feeding Cid, because the boy wouldn’t talk to anyone. In the entire time he’d known Cid the doll had spoken maybe a few sentences.
Nick waited what was probably too long to sit in silence before he bothered to speak again. He needed to get moving soon. If he didn’t, things would probably slip out of his control.
“It’s time Cid. The City Council made their move. Militiamen attacked me in my room not very long ago.” Cid’s purple eyes got wider in surprise at his comment. He probably couldn’t tell since he can see through illusions, but Nick had disguised himself since leaving his room. “I know you don’t like to talk, but I need you to relay a message to Edgar for me.”
This was the moment of truth he supposed. He had made plans in the event the City Council had tried to make a move. He hoped to end things peacefully. He’d even step down from his councilman position if he had too to maintain peace. But he doubted it would. Even worse he wasn’t sure people would follow him anymore. Nick wasn’t a gambling man, but this would probably be one of the biggest gambles he had taken in his life.
“What do you need me to tell him?” Cid said in a somewhat strained squeaky voice that was rarely used.
“It looks like we’ll be at this for a while if that’s the best you can do.” Raedi said with a strange mix of boredom and smugness Joe had grown to expect from the guy. Joe didn’t know how long he had been asleep, but he did know he had lost 27 times already in this stupid game of Raedi’s.
“Again!” Joe spat out. This game was starting to annoy him but he was past the point of hating it. Now, he just wanted to beat Raedi at his own stupid game. Unfortunately it seemed like no matter what he did, no matter how strong his creations were, The Abogenisist always had a bigger stronger one waiting to tear it apart.
“Fine, fine it looks like your not going anywhere. You had a long shift after all. I doubt you’d be missed for quite some time. I mean Tom was gone for days before anyone noticed he was gone, and you guys still haven’t figured out some of the others still miss–”
“Whatever just reset.” Joe cut him off without listening. The guy would just ramble on if he didn’t focus him.
Raedi walked around his rock again twirling that stupid cane of his. Joe didn’t know what was more irritating. That fact that he couldn’t seem to beat Raedi in a fight or the fact that no matter how strong his creations were they were always crushed near instantly. It was as if Raedi knew what he was building before the reveal.
“That bastard.” Joe mumbled as he thought about it.
“Leah, what’s going on?” Beatrix asked as she followed her friend down the hall. Leah did not like the news she had gotten from Max once he had contacted her. She had been somewhat agitated as she had gotten more details from the other patrols. They had been ordered to pull back and monitor the advance of the shifter hoard.
It wasn’t as if they hadn’t been spotted before, but they never got this close to the city. Leah wondered what could be drawing them here after so long. It probably didn’t matter at the moment. It wasn’t a year ago. They have plenty of time to prepare a defense, and there were much better trained mages ready to turn the hoard. She just had to sound the alarm.
Leah pulled her cellphone out of her pocket and scrolled through her contacts before stopping on Nick’s name.
With in seconds she could here the ring of her phone connecting magically to his. It didn’t take long but she impatiently waited as he answered after the 6th ring.
“Leah?” Nick answered with, sounding strangely confused.
“Yes, Nick who else would call you from my phone.”
“Good timing, this is important I need you to have all militia and City Council affiliates removed from the Labs.”
“Wait what?” Leah asked worried. This was a huge shift from the last time they had spoken.
“Is anyone near by that can hear you?” Leah had slowed to a stop and looked over at Beatrix who was still following her. The doll had managed a worried expression on her face. She had given up trying to talk to her at some point.
“Just Bea.” She responded. She didn’t like where this conversation had headed, but it wasn’t one she was going to like anyway.
“Good now listen, it looks like the City Council is planning something. They are starting to block off the doll and mage districts with militia and have erected some kind of barricade. They also attempted to assault me in my apartment earlier. I imagine you and Mike are probably targets as well. So for everyone’s safety. I need you to kick them out so they can’t harm anyone.”
“Nick we don’t have time for this kind of infighting. There’s a shifter hoard coming.”
“…How big?” Nick asked after a brief but noticeable pause.
“Smaller than the one at the Sundering. Bigger than the one Tom wiped out during the raid on the moon.”
“Hmmm.” Was all Leah heard from the other end of the call as Nick processed what she had said to him.
“We need you to come back and start preparing the defenses for the hoard. The City Council can wait. It won’t matter once they see mages defending them again.”
“No that’ll be impossible right now. With the timing of Tom’s arrival and exit we’ll probably get blamed for the hoard.” Nick mumbled responding but half listening to her. “Okay, new plan. Leah you’re in charge of the the defense while I deal with the City Council, but kick out militia first so they don’t cause trouble.”
“But that’s just your original plan adding me dealing with more stuff!” Leah responded frustratedly.
“Don’t worry you’ve got this.”
Before Leah could continue the conversation she heard the line cut out as he hung up the call. She redialed trying to get ahold of Nick, but the call went straight to voicemail. Leah let out a sigh giving a mix of defeat and frustration.
“That bad huh?” Beatrix asked still standing a few feet behind her. Leah inhaled, counted to 4 and exhaled. The breath wasn’t as deep as normal since she was still recovering, but it did the trick of calming her down before replying to her waiting friend.
“Okay Bea I need your help with something.”