Author Topic: Chapter 11  (Read 5738 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 11
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:01:41 AM »
Chapter 11

There were no doors in the open field where they landed, but Nick used a mirror to contact the Veil. It was only a few minutes before two Veil agents showed up on motorcycles, with two spare helmets for them. Petra was confused at first, but quickly realized that bikes were about the only fast vehicle that could fit through a normal door. She held on for dear life as her driver and Nick's sped back towards the door.

The plane landed safely back at the Colorado Springs airstrip, but Nick didn't want to go out there, or to let Petra. How could they explain how the two of them had beaten the plane back here? His people investigated though, finding no sign of Thrill or any other fades on board. "It was a long shot anyway," Nick had said, looking dejected.

Fortunately they had other options, which they exercised over the next two days. Nick and Petra met with Excitement himself briefly, and he had claimed ignorance of the events themselves, much less who was responsible. Thankfully Veil agents had been tracking his group for a long time now, and they knew Thrill's schedule. So by the end of the second day they were near a cliff in southern China, waiting for him to show up.

"I still don't get it," Petra said thoughtfully. Even with her condition, the skydiving details were still sharp and clear in her mind. "You said I can't be killed like this. Even if someone put a bullet through my heart, it wouldn't matter because I don't actually need blood anymore. What was Thrill hoping to gain by doing this? If it was really him, that is."

Nick shook his head. "I don't think it was your death they wanted so much as your removal. As long as you're not the immortal anymore, they probably don't care what happens to you. It's true your vital organs are a lot less vital now, but they also don't grow back. They want to force you to choose another immortal the same way Darius chose you. If you won't cooperate, then they have to destroy your body completely. I don't know if smashing into the ground at terminal velocity would do that, but they obviously thought it would."

"Sheesh," Petra looked up at the sky nervously. Rage's threats were starting to sound a lot more plausible now. As disturbed as she was though, Nick looked even more so. "Are you all right?"

"Everything is changing," he said in frustration. "First there was the Lisbon disaster, and then you showed up. Then we found out Colin went rogue, and Chuck might be behind it. And now an assassination attempt? I'm good at dealing with unexpected situations, but these are unprecedented! The Veil has always been able to deal with problems peacefully and quietly. I was proud to be a part of that- to help keep the peace. Now, I just feel.. lost. Up is down, and I have no control over where I'm going." He paused. "Sorry. I didn't mean to bring back any trauma from the skydiving thing."

She waved his apology aside. "There's nothing to bring back. Sure it was unforgettable, but hardly scarring. And I get it. Stuff like this has never happened before, in either of our lifetimes. Everyone's nervous right now: you, me, the fades, the Veil agents; I bet even Darius is a bit uneasy. We just have to take it slow- one problem at a time. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I find it helps to focus on the little things. The clay sculptures I made as a kid, or my favorite photos at home. Things that bring me joy."

Nick chuckled briefly. "In that case, I miss my chute."

Petra looked at him curiously, and he pointed a finger upwards. "It's the one I ditched in midair so I could come after you and use the backup chute. It sounds silly, but it meant a lot to me. I painted it myself."

"It's gotta be in that field in Colorado, right? You can just go back and look for it."

"No, it was fully deployed," Nick said glumly. "It could have blown anywhere. Even if I had the time to go looking for it, I wouldn't know where to start."

"Could Chuck find it? I bet there's some magic way to track down lost items."

Petra regretted it as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Nick still wasn't convinced Chuck was innocent. Sure enough, he grimaced at the thought. "He's hard at work tracking Colin, or saying he is. No, I'll just get a new one for my next jump. I'll paint it later."

Petra started to offer her help, but Nick's posture changed, becoming more alert. He leaned forward a bit. "Here we go."

There was a small shack near the top of this cliff, connected to the rest of China's power grid by a single power line. Petra could see a familiar orange figure squeezing its way out of the shack's external outlet. According to Veil intelligence, this was where Thrill came regularly, just before a squad of Chinese base-jumpers showed up at the shack. Nick had already arranged for their activity to be delayed, and apparently Thrill didn't know that yet. From behind the rock outcropping, Nick reached down and touched the mirror lying on the ground. The Veil head of security's face appeared on it, and he nodded to her.

Andrea confidently stepped out from behind the cabin and swiped a.. blade of some kind through the forming ball of energy. Its edge cut evenly and cleanly through the uneven sphere, separating about a fifth of it from the rest. Thrill kept pouring out of the electrical outlet, but when he was done he just floated there. Petra heard a choked gasp, but from the distance she couldn't be sure if it was Thrill or someone else making the noise.

Nick rose, a smile forming on his face. "Good work, Andy."

She nodded at him appreciatively, and stepped aside as he approached. Nick stopped in front of the fade, eying him critically. "You're a creature of habit, Thrill. Saved us the trouble of tracking you down and ambushing you in a populated area. I would thank you for making it easy on us, if you hadn't tried to kill one of my friends first!"

Petra followed him at a distance, unsure of what else Thrill might have up his proverbial sleeves. She spared a look at the sword-ish thing in Andy's hand. It had a short, serrated edge, and was attached to a small but powerful-looking battery. Seeing her interest, Andy raised it and turned it on. "We just call it the Cutter," she explained. "We've only used it once or twice before in the field. It immobilizes fades, assuming you can catch one dumb enough to be hit by it," she added with an insulting look at Thrill. "Fades are only vulnerable when they're transferring energy, like when they're leaving a power conduit."

An electrical charge ran down the edge, insulated from Andy's hand by the rubber hilt. It looked terrifying to Petra, but she had to admit it was effective. Thrill was definitely groaning at the sight of it.

"What's wrong with him?" She asked, refocusing on the fade. "Why doesn't he just pull himself together and leave?"

"He can't," Nick said with dark amusement. "Fades need a certain amount of energy to change their shape or move around. If even a part of him is separated from the rest, he's utterly immobile and helpless without a fresh infusion of energy. And he'll stay that way," Nick took the sword from Andy and poked it into Thrill several times, "until he tells us what we need to know."

He glanced back at Petra through the sunglasses. "He can't connect to my phone in this state, so I won't be able to hear him. You'll have to translate."

Petra nodded, feeling sick. It must have been a mental thing, at what she was witnessing. From her studies, she knew that Fades couldn't feel pain. They didn't have any nerves or sensory bundles. However this did feel dangerously close to torture, and she did have an objection to that.

"So, what'll it be, Thrill?" Nick went on, circling the damaged creature. He pulled a small box from his pocket and opened it. "This is a rare earth magnet. We've found it repels fades. We don't have enough of it to build an effective barrier, but a few of us have boxes like this out in the field. If I put it next to your severed.. part, it'll push it towards you. You'll have enough energy to put yourself back together and escape. Or I could just leave you like this. Eventually your energy will drain away and you'll die."

There was nothing an ageless being would fear more than death, Petra realized. Thrill's groans faded, but he spoke up after a moment. "What do you want to know? I'll tell you anything! Why are you doing this?"

Petra shook her head. "He says he'll tell us anything, and he's claiming ignorance."

Nick paused for a moment, looking him over. "You invited us onto that plane. You told me that the starter chute was safe. I know you didn't cut that cord yourself, so you must have manipulated some human into doing it. I want to know who, and why!"

"Someone cut her chute cord? I don't know, I swear. I had nothing to do with it!"

"He says he doesn't know anything."

"Yeah, that's how people usually start. In this respect, you fades are very similar to us. You always begin with denials." Nick looked at the shack door they'd all come out of an hour ago. "I suppose I could go back and get an EMP generator. If I press the button it'll blast you away, but since you can't move, it would just kill you. That's too quick, though. Attempted murder merits something a little more.. creative, I think."

He lifted the tiny magnet in his hand and approached Thrill. As he extended it towards the orange cloud, the shape was pushed away from it. He positioned his hand so that it pushed the two parts farther away from each other, though. "I bet the farther apart your pieces are, the faster your energy will drain. How long do you have now? A few hours? And you'll never get that energy back again. How long will it be before you're just a drained husk, even if I did put you back together?"

He pushed the magnet forward slowly but inexorably, and Thrill cried out. "Stop! All right! I'll tell you."

Petra raised a hand, and Nick withdrew the magnet. "Go on," she told Thrill, trying to keep her voice cold and hard.

"I was just supposed to get you on the plane," he said pleadingly. "I didn't know about any tampering, but it must have been Greed who arranged it. He must have paid one of the prep crew to replace your gear."

"Did Excitement know about this?" She asked harshly.

"No, Greed approached me himself. He.. offered me a place of power at his side if I would help him. Excitement would never go along with it."

Petra looked over at Nick. "He says Greed bribed him to lure us onto the plane. He claims Excitement had no idea."

"Well, he did seem pretty surprised when I told him," Nick admitted. "All right, Thrill. Now the least important, and morally the most important, question: why? Why does Greed want Petra dead?" He hefted the magnet again as a threat.

Petra was pretty sure they both already knew the answer, but Thrill confirmed it. "He's terrified that she'll mess up Greed's relationship with Morty!" He said frantically. "He wants you to be the next immortal in charge of the Veil. He thinks you'll do a better job as a liaison than she ever could!"

So there it was. What Rage had hinted at weeks ago was now out in the open. Petra's heart felt heavy as she translated for the unfortunate prisoner. He was probably right, she thought to herself. Nick would make a far better leader of the Veil. All of this was happening because Darius had saved her life. Actually, all of it was happening because she had been overly curious in the first place!

Nick's lips tightened. "We've got maybe half an hour before those Chinese base-jumpers arrive," he said shortly. "We have to be gone by then. What'll it be, Petra? Should we push him back together, or further apart?"

Petra was surprised at the question. After a moment she beckoned him away from Andy and Thrill, to the side. "Why are you asking me?" She said in an undertone.

"You have to get used to these kinds of decisions," he said just as quietly. "If you decide to kill him, I'm sure Excitement will back your play. A direct attack on the Veil would allow such a permanent response. We've never had to kill a fade before, but it would send a strong message to Greed especially."

"What if I let him go, or lock him up. Can we even lock a fade up?"

Nick shrugged. "Releasing him wouldn't ruffle any fade feathers either, but it could be seen as condoning his actions. The same would be true for putting him inside a Faraday cage. No matter what happens to him in the end, it would be a sign of weakness."

Petra sighed. "I don't suppose there's any legal infrastructure in place to cover this? Something I can point to as a precedent?"

"Only the Black Death itself, and Morty's response to it," he pointed out reluctantly. "I doubt we want to do things that old-school."

That figured. Petra reached out for the magnet, and Nick put it in her hand. It was surprisingly light, given the gravity of what it was about to be used for.

She went back to Thrill. "I've decided to spare you," she said immediately, not wanting to keep anyone in suspense any longer. She raised the magnet to one side, slowly pushing the two pieces of Thrill back together. The instant they came in contact, Thrill reformed himself, shying away from the magnet and moving towards the power outlet again.

"Before you go, there is one thing I want to say," she added quickly. "Since his assassination attempt failed, I don't know if Greed will offer you that position in his group or not. Or if he ever intended to offer it at all. Whether you go to Greed or back to Excitement, I want you to spread the word of what happened here. Tell them that I'm not like Morty- I don't believe in an eye for an eye. Or in two hundred and nine for twenty-five million. All sentient lives are equally valuable, fades and humans alike." She nodded at the plug, and Thrill started moving again.

He paused just before going through it. "I did overhear something," he put in quietly. "Greed was talking to Resentment, one of his people. He said humans all have pressure points, and if he couldn't get to you, he could always get to the people closest to you." At that, he slipped into the plug and vanished.

Petra felt a stab of fear. Her mom and Mark were the closest people to her! "He said Greed might be going after my family," she told Nick quickly.

"Then you don't need to worry. Darius stationed Veil agents outside their house the day he brought you in. We've had people keeping an eye on them in shifts ever since. We have an EMP ready to blast away any fades in the area, and we're monitoring the house's electrical use so we'll know if they come in through the power lines."

That was a relief. With a certain amount of chagrin, Petra realized that of course they'd have people watching out for her family. One day she'd learn to stop underestimating the reach and dedication of this organization. After all, they'd been doing this for nearly seven hundred years now.

Nick used his transport key to open the door to Kiri Atoll. Andy went through first, to give her report to Darius directly. Petra put a hand on Nick's shoulder though, stopping him from following. "I.. never thanked you for saving my life," she said quietly. "Especially since it cost you your favorite parachute."

And since you would probably be next in line if you'd let me fall, she considered adding, but thought better of it. "I think I'm starting to understand now, just why the fades are so scared. Thank you, Nick."

He shook his head. "Darius chose you for a reason. I trust in his judgement, and I'm sure any other Veil agent would have done the same. I did the only thing I could under the circumstances. But you're welcome."

That was another thing she was just starting to understand. "Wow. You really do love him, don't you?"

Nick hesitated for a moment, looking back at her. "I don't really remember my biological parents after all this time. Stan and Sheila were great, and they raised me well, but they were only ever just caretakers. It was Darius who was always looking after me. He was the one who first took me skydiving, though it scared the crap out of me at the time. He taught me all those languages so I could fit in overseas. He gave me this job- an important and valuable thing to do. He's the closest thing I have to a father.. and I'm going to miss him."

That sounded particularly ominous. "What do you mean?"

"When your training's done, and Morty transfers the rest of his energy from Darius into you, Darius will die."

Petra stared at him. "I.. thought when the transfer is complete, he goes back to the way he was before it started. He's no spring chicken, granted, but he's got another twenty or thirty years. Right?"

Nick shook his head. "Normally yes, but Morty took him from a battlefield. He had a sword in his gut when he was infused with that energy. And he's taken a lot of injuries since then. No, this is how it works. When a new immortal takes over, the previous one dies."

He sighed. "He says he's fine with it, and I believe him. I suppose after seventeen centuries I would be too. I guess I always knew this would happen eventually. It's just rough, you know?"

Petra nodded, still distracted by the seriousness of this news. She'd been looking forward to getting to know Darius better, too. She had tossed around the notion that he might actually be an ancestor of hers, explaining his interest in her family. She'd considered introducing him to her mom and Mark, perhaps as a friend from work, just so he could meet them. That wasn't going to happen now.

She cast about briefly, trying to distract herself and Nick from this suddenly-depressing topic. "If you do get a new chute, do you want any help painting it? I have some artwork experience, and it is the least I can do to help."

That triggered a slight smile at least. "Well, that would be fitting, given that it was Darius who helped me paint the first one. All right. Should we say.. Thursday night? I should be free by then."

Petra nodded. "That works. I've got some painting supplies at home that might be useful." She made for the open door, but this time it was Nick who stopped her.

He pressed the key into her hand. "I spoke with Darius after we got back from Colorado. He agrees that you should have one of these. And you should hold onto that magnet, too. Greed and the others can't attack you directly, but there's nothing stopping him from hiring a human to go after you again. If that happens, you can use the key to escape quickly." He held her hand tightly for a moment, and then let go and stepped back onto the island.

Petra looked down at the small piece of metal resting in her hand. Suddenly it felt a lot heavier than before.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 02:00:00 AM by Daen »