Author Topic: Chapter 8  (Read 9954 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 8
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:02:15 AM »
Chapter 8

The fade waited until Nick had left before approaching. "I wondered if you would want to face me alone," it said in a raspy male voice.

Petra wasn't concerned about being attacked again. From what she'd read, now that Morty had altered her body's EM field, she wasn't in direct danger from any fade anymore. If one of them tried what Greed had, it would have no effect. "Who are you?" She asked, more curious than afraid.

"I am Rage." The electromagnetic cloud, which was purplish in color, formed into a similarly vague human-shape and bowed.

"What, did Contentment invite you to 'view' me as well?" Petra was starting to feel a bit like a zoo attraction.

Rage shook his head. Apparently like Contentment, he'd picked up human mannerisms. "No, my sister and I rarely see eye to eye. I have resources inside CSIS. Facial recognition picked up you and Nikola inside this hospital, so I decided to come here myself. I gambled that you'd want to talk to one of the fades who isn't a Veil lapdog, alone. Looks like I was right."

There hadn't been much about Rage's faction in her reading material. This was a good opportunity for Petra to get a better understanding of the fades. That was if they really were alone. Greed had humans working for him, and Rage might as well. "If Contentment and her group like to help dead folks find closure, what do you do? Taunt them with their failures?"

Rage waved an arm at the morgue. "I have no interest in the dead. The living are much more angry. My brethren and I spend most of our time on the internet." He gave a mirthless chuckle. "There's nothing quite like anonymity combined with white male fragility to set the stage for anger. Throw in some disadvantaged people simply asking for equality, and it's like a match in a pool of gasoline. Fury, all over the internet. It's delicious."

"What about those disadvantaged people?" Petra countered. "I'm sure they've got plenty of anger to throw around."

"Oh yes, but their anger doesn't last. Whether they succeed or die, it passes far too quickly. But for the average internet agitator, fury is a staple. As soon as one target becomes less threatening, they switch to another. Rage is the only thing keeping them from facing their own fears, and I love every second of it."

"Then why are you here talking to me? I'm not about to help you stoke anger in anyone, but I'm also no threat to you. I couldn't stop those small-minded people even if I wanted to."

Rage let out a growl. "Because like my internet pets, I also know fear. You represent a threat, not to my work, but to my very existence. I'm sure you know I can't hurt you directly, which is why I'm going to convince you."

That sounded ominous. "Convince me of what, exactly?"

The fade paused, looking up for a moment at the ceiling, and then chuckled. "Follow me." He started to move straight up, and then adjusted course towards the stairs.

Petra knew that directly above them was the main waiting room. Cameras were all over the place, so it seemed unlikely there would be any danger. Wondering what he was up to, Petra went after him.

There was a full-blown argument in progress up there. Two men and a woman, all in their thirties, were speaking loudly and animatedly. "I can't believe you'd say that!" One of the men said, turning red. "She's your own mother!"

"It's what she wanted," the woman insisted. "She's in there, breathing through a tube. Her brain is mush. We can't just leave her like that!"

"You haven't even seen her in two years," the other man interjected, in a calmer but still strained voice. "You have no right to say what she would want. Neither of you do!"

"You're one to talk!" The first man said immediately. "We've both got families at home, but your precious career is all you care about! Sure you set her and dad up in that fancy house, but that doesn't mean you have the right to speak for them."

The doctor near them looked extremely uncomfortable. The others in the waiting area had moved to the side, pretending this wasn't happening. Next to her, Rage was in rapt attention. It was exactly the same pose Petra had seen Contentment take on, back in the maternity ward. "You're getting off on this!" She accused quietly.

"Yes," the fade hissed, "but more on how it started than the results."

The three of them had apparently realized what a spectacle they'd become. They lowered their voices and moved away. Wishing that she could still feel ill, Petra followed suit. Over in a corner, she pulled out a phone so that she wouldn't look crazy. "What do you mean?"

"This whole argument was triggered by ignorance and stupidity," Rage explained. "The children are ignorant of the mother's wishes, and the mother was stupid for not making them clear ahead of time. This family is at risk of being torn apart because of that. Just as the fades are at risk because of you!"

Petra shook her head, uncomprehending, and Rage growled again. "Well not you precisely, but it's your relationship with Mortemer that concerns us. He's not happy that Darius chose you, and that endangers all fades, everywhere!"

"How?" Petra asked, bewildered. "I know that Morty and the fades all came from the same dimension originally, but that was thousands of years ago. What does he have against you now, and what do Darius and I have to do with it?"

Rage sighed. "Very well. I'll give you.. a colorful analogy of what went on. Imagine you had a brother. A very large family, actually: brothers and sisters. One of them was a real bad apple. He liked to kill, say, ants. He would fry them, crush them, force them to fight other insects, all for his own amusement. None of the family liked him, but he was still their brother."

Petra wasn't sure where he was going with this, and his condescension was getting a bit irritating, but she listened patiently. "One day this brother of yours stomps a series of anthills flat, killing a bunch of them. When asked why, he said many things. Perhaps he was curious about how they'd survive, or rebuild. Maybe he wanted to see which were the toughest, or where the survivors moved to. Or he was just bored. Any or all of those might be true. Then the next day, he just drops dead. Without any warning or anything. Just gone."

As far as storyline twists went, it wasn't bad. "What killed him?"

"No one knows at first. Before long, all of you get a message from someone you've never even heard of. It says your brother was executed in retribution for all the ants he killed. The message is from someone who apparently could just will him dead, in an instant. Someone who could do the same to any of you, or your whole family, anytime he wanted to!"

Rage stopped briefly, his purple eye-light-things darting back and forth as he looked in her direction. "Imagine how that would make you feel, Petra. Of course you would treat ants with kid gloves from that point on, but wouldn't it also instill fear in you? It certainly did for me. For all my brothers and sisters."

The abstract analogy had suddenly become very real, as Petra tried to reconcile it with the existence of the fades. "Morty is the executioner in this story, isn't he?"

Rage nodded. "And my brother was Despair. He was a downer, and a real sadist, but I loved him all the same. There are no fade children, you see. We don't age or die naturally, and we don't procreate. So when Despair and his two hundred and eight kin were eliminated in an instant, it left an impression on us."

Petra could imagine that would make some waves. Ageless creatures, suddenly realizing they could be killed? She went on for completion's sake, though. "I take it the ants in your story were human beings?"

"Primitive ones. Fourteenth-century Europeans."

She took a deep breath. "And the anthills that your brother and his faction smashed flat?"

Rage was quiet for a long moment. "I'm sure you've heard of the Bubonic Plague."

Petra gasped. "Fades started the Black Death??"

"That's right. Despair and the others possessed a group of humans. They loaded ships with diseased rats, and sailed them to Europe in 1347. Over the next four years, nearly half of the population died. Later outbreaks lifted that number to over a hundred million people."

This was unbelievable! Covid had killed millions of people worldwide. Petra had read up on previous pandemics because of it, including the Spanish flu in the 1900s. Then there were yellow fever, polio, AIDS, zika and malaria outbreaks, but none of them could hold a candle to the Black Death.

"I'm not trying to excuse what he did, Petra," Rage went on, his voice more intense than before. "I just don't want to share his fate! In 1918, many of us feared that Mortemer would blame us for the Spanish flu as well. Those fears resurfaced when Covid made its debut. Mortemer obliterated almost a thirteenth of our population with a thought. If he has even a mood swing, he could do the same to the rest of us! We have to keep him happy, and you being the next immortal is making him quite unhappy."

Petra closed her eyes, and tried to will herself to breathe normally. Or to breathe at all. "What do you want me to do?" She asked quietly.

"In a few months when your training is complete, Darius will transfer the rest of his power to you, officially making you the new leader of the Veil. At that time, I want you to transfer your power to Nikola. He's been Darius' right-hand-man at the Veil for over ten years. He's spent more than twenty working at your sites all over the world. All of us assumed he would be Darius' choice, until you came along. And most importantly, Mortemer likes him and trusts him."

As an ageless being, Rage might not be aware of the implications of his request. "Rage, this energy from Morty is the only thing keeping me alive! If I give it up, I go back to the way I was. My body's EM field was disrupted. My brain, heart, lungs, all my major organs were failing. I'd be dead within minutes! Unless.. you're saying you can undo that." Her hope was faint, but it was there.

Rage shook his head. "I'm sorry. What Greed did to you is irreversible. I know very well what I'm asking. I'm asking you to help me keep my species alive."

"Why should I?" Petra asked angrily, getting up quickly. "One of your 'siblings' tried to kill me!"

She was attracting some strange looks despite her phone, so Petra decided to step outside into the night air. She was peripherally aware of Rage following in her wake. "You just likened my whole species to ants. If you don't value us, why should we care what happens to you?"

"That was seven hundred years ago!" Rage protested, and she was rewarded with a note of desperation in his voice. His shape dissolved for a moment, as he apparently got ahold of himself. "Our opinion of humanity has evolved since then. You've developed technology which has both aided and threatened us. You can now detect us if you want, and wall us out of certain areas. You can even kill us if necessary, one at a time. Trust me, we no longer see your kind as ants. Contentment should be proof of that, at least."

Rage sighed in the darkness. "We still have some time. You can verify what I've said with others. You can think on the possibilities. Please don't dismiss my suggestion out of hand just because I represent anger. We don't choose what we like, after all. Some humans like rice, and some like sauerkraut. One person's weird sexual fetish is another person's normal life. In this respect I'm just a fade, and that's all I'm speaking as."

He gave another abbreviated bow, barely visible in the night, and floated away.

-.-

"So I heard you ran into someone unexpected at the hospital," Chuck said, sidling up next to Petra.

"What?" She asked hurriedly, trying not to look suspicious. Fades didn't show up on camera, and she'd kept her phone up the whole time, so no one should know she was talking to Rage. Unless they had her phone tapped!

"Elle," Chuck said with a smile. "What did you think of her?"

"Oh. Yeah. I found her.. a bit overwhelming actually."

"She is a bit much sometimes," Chuck admitted, his admiration clear. "She may not be French by birth, but she acts a lot like it. I heard she-"

Petra partially tuned him out as he went on extolling Elle. It had been more than a day since the hospital, and she was back on Kiri Atoll, heading down into the underground Veil headquarters. One of the Veil people had picked her up with one of his special keys. Petra didn't remember his name, unfortunately. According to the reading material, there were over three hundred of them, with about fifty of that total living full-time on Kiri Atoll.

A moving wall of light seemed to pass up from the ground, rushing through the floor, her, and the ceiling in an instant! It was gone just as fast as it had appeared. "What was that?" She asked loudly, looking around. Fortunately she was wearing her new contacts, or.. whatever it was might have blinded her.

Chuck looked confused at first, and then comprehension dawned on him. "Oh. Yeah, that was an electromagnetic pulse. I forgot you can see them now. We have an EM generator in the middle of our headquarters. It sends out a pulse every thirty seconds or so. If any fades made it past the Faraday cage on the outside, the EMP would stop them."

Another burst of light passed through her. She couldn't feel a thing physically. Petra doubted she'd be able to get much sleep here, though. "Does this pulse kill fades?"

"No, it just pushes them away. Like a leaf in a strong breeze. The repeating generator, or REMP as we call it, makes sure our lower levels are safe. We've only turned it off a few times, like when you were first brought in, so that it wouldn't hurt your eyes."

"It's appreciated," Petra said wryly. "I was brought here a bit early today, but I wasn't told why. Some kind of meeting downstairs?"

"I was called to it too. No idea what it might be about," Chuck responded easily.

They continued downwards for a bit. Petra had wondered before, why this place had stairs instead of elevators. If an EMP swept through the building every half minute, it made more sense. This headquarters was mostly housing actually, for all the Veil agents when they weren't on various continents keeping track of the fades.

"What's the deal with Elle and Morty anyway?" Petra asked, glancing at Chuck as they descended. "I know that Morty and the fades are native to the same dimension, but she's not?"

"Nope. She's from a different one. It's kind of a weird thing, actually," Chuck said with a frown. "We only have theories about Morty, even after all this time. My favorite one is that he's a fade himself, but like an air-traffic controller for the rest of them. They spread out into a bunch of different dimensions, and he uses the temporal energy in his own realm to keep them from getting lost or whatever."

It was as good a theory as any. "And Elle?"

Chuck shook his head. "I have no idea what she is. I assume that whatever her home dimension is, it's pretty devoid of life. That's why she spends so much time on earth. The trick is, Elle told us she's still tethered to her own dimension. She can only move one over. So she can visit earth if she wants, but she can't enter Morty's realm. And Morty can summon people to his realm using that transport disc, but he can't or won't leave. So their love is of the forbidden kind, I guess."

Petra stopped. "Wait, they're lovers?"

"Long-distance lovers, but yeah. Morty's been interested in humanity ever since we started walking upright. When some of the ancient Romans started talking about a beautiful woman not of their earth, he used them to send a message to her. The two of them have been corresponding since, oh, 100 AD or so?"

"Wow," Petra thought about that. She'd had her own relationships, mild and spectacular, which hadn't worked out, but at least she could be in the same room as her exes.

"That's why Morty made Darius immortal in the first place," Chuck explained. "He was tired of his human messengers dying off so quickly. Darius doesn't talk much about those early days soldiering for the Roman Empire, but from what I've heard he was also kind of a herald. He sang, and played the panpipe for both Elle and Morty. Ever since videocameras became a thing, his role between them has been more ceremonial than anything else. You won't be expected to entertain them when you take over."

"That's a relief. So Darius was a Legionnaire? That explains a few things." Including why he hadn't spoken more than five words to her since that encounter in Morty's realm. Ancient Rome had been highly patriarchal, with women having little or no power. Maybe Darius had adapted with the times, but he grew up back then. The earliest habits were often the hardest to break.

"Yup. Darius Benedictus, born in Lugdunum in about 200 AD. But don't let his soldier-boy history fool you. He was quite the romantic actor for Morty and Elle, back in the day. I've heard some recordings of what he used to perform. He's got a hell of a singing voice. I heard he even studied with Willian Shakespeare for a time."

"Sheesh. Merlin, Shakespeare. Who else did he know? Charlemagne? FDR? Ghandi?"

"Before the 1300s, maybe he knew a bunch of famous people, but afterwards it was just people he needed to help the Veil. The Black Death was a body-blow to the whole of Europe, and it took centuries to get over."

Petra nodded. "No kidding. I heard fades were responsible for the plague. I assume that's why Darius started the Veil. To keep it from happening again?"

Chuck gave her a sidelong look. "That wasn't included in the reading material I gave you."

"I heard two agents talking about it in the hall before I left," Petra invented quickly.

He seemed to be satisfied with her answer, and continued down the stairs. "After the plague started, and Morty struck back at the fades, Darius felt it was his responsibility to act as a go-between. He had a connection to Morty, and he could see and hear the fades. He was uniquely suited as an ambassador of sorts. With his help, both sides eventually came to terms. As long as the fades never commit genocide again, and never directly possess humans again, they're safe."

"But they can manipulate people, right? That's what Greed was doing with that gang back home. I saw one of Contentment's group taking a recently deceased guy for a tour as well."

Chuck nodded. "As long as our free will remains intact, yes. Ever since the internet came into use, it's become a lot easier for them to pull human strings, though. They've learned to affect the internet directly, without needing a computer or anything. If not for Morty's ultimatum, they could do a lot of damage. Overloading power grids, shutting down hospitals, launching nukes." He chuckled. "If humans weren't so self-destructive already, I'd be worried about the fades."

Petra gave him a concerned look, but he didn't seem depressed. Rage's pleas to her made a lot more sense now. He might be content manipulating online trolls and agitators for their anger, but if there was anything like a Hate faction out there, they could cause a lot of problems.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:50:22 AM by Daen »