Author Topic: Chapter 7  (Read 10664 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 7
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:02:23 AM »
Chapter 7

"Why did we have to come here, of all places?" Petra asked irritably, as Nick led the way into BC Women's Hospital, in the middle of town. She hated hospitals, going back into childhood.

"We're here to meet someone associated with the Veil," he responded evenly, moving out of the way of a passing gurney. "She insisted that we come here. Given how far she's come, accommodating her is the least we can do."

"How far has she come?"

Nick gave her a sidelong look. "I'm not sure, exactly. It varies, day to day."

That made sense. If this person had a key as well, distance didn't really matter. Or maybe she didn't. Was she a fade?

Petra was wearing her more-comfortable glasses, now that she was away from Didi. They'd been framed to fit her specifically, and fit pretty well. Petra could still see electrical sources, but they weren't a threat to her eyesight. She was supposed to see fades as well, glasses or no, but hadn't caught sight of any yet. Based on how long she'd been back in the 'real world', Petra had assumed she'd see one or two by now, but apparently not. Were they pretty rare or something?

Nick took a sharp right down one of the far halls, to the maternity ward. As they approached the far hallway, Petra's anticipation was realized. There was a.. figure there, hovering in the air outside one of the rooms. It was amorphous, about a meter across, and light yellow in color. It looked like a concentration of gas until she got closer, and it literally turned to face them!

As she watched the gas cloud changed shape, taking on a roughly-human appearance, in the upper half at least. A pair of arms delineated themselves, and two tiny lights appeared where eyes might be on a person. The figure looked back and forth between them, before giving her an abbreviated nod. "Good evening Petra," a female voice intoned. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

Not knowing quite what to think, Petra nodded in return. "You too." She looked around briefly. There were infants in rows in an adjoining room, and down the hall were expectant mothers each in their own room, but this hallway seemed clear for now. "Can you see and hear.. her?" Petra asked Nick.

He shook his head. "Because of what Morty did to you and Darius, you can both interact with fades like you can anyone else. The rest of us need technology to do the same. Or the use of Chuck's little trinkets." He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket and put them on, before placing his phone on the windowsill outside of the infants' room, and turning it on.

The fade reached out to the phone and it flickered on briefly. "Hello, Nick. How have you been?" Petra heard two voices saying that, actually. One was the female tone she'd heard earlier, and the other was a monotone electronic voice coming from the phone. Fortunately the electronic voice was much quieter.

"I'm just fine, Contentment, thanks," Nick responded. "Figures you'd bring us here," he added wryly, looking down the hall at the mothers' rooms.

The fade, Contentment apparently, gave a human-style shrug. "I might as well be comfortable while we talk."

Petra was getting the hang of this. "So you can't hear her normal voice- just the one coming from the phone?"

"That's right. Chuck made these sunglasses so that we could see fades too. It looks a little out of place, but better than a crazy person talking to open air."

Contentment chuckled, a sound the phone was apparently programmed to ignore. "You humans and your vanity. It was amusing at first, but it got old very quickly."

Nick seemed a bit taken aback by that, but recovered quickly. "I'll be up in the waiting room if you need anything," he told Petra. "Be sure to use your phone while talking to her. They frown on obviously crazy people in maternity wards." He gave her a smirk before heading upstairs, and Petra resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him.

"So you're the new immortal, eh?" Contentment said after he'd gone. "I imagine you're feeling a bit overwhelmed right now."

Petra had to concede that one. "Maybe a bit. But all of this is fascinating, too. Take you and the other fades for example. Are you.. aliens? Ghosts? Humans who've evolved into pure energy?"

Contentment laughed again, the sound cascading like a waterfall. "Darius said you were inquisitive. Yes, we are aliens, but not from any other planet. We're extradimensional creatures. From Morty's realm, actually. All fades originated there before spreading out to other dimensions like this one."

"So Morty is a fade too? He looked human."

Contentment hesitated there, and looked nervous, or as much as a cloud could portray. "Morty is.. complicated. We're not actually sure what he is. Most of us didn't even remember he existed until a few hundred years ago. A lot of us resent him as well." She turned slightly and began moving down the hall. "Come along. We're not here to talk about him after all."

Since Morty apparently had the ability to grant immortality, Petra was more than a little curious. She didn't want to rock the boat though; she'd have more opportunities later. She hurried after her guide. "Nick said that all fades have an affinity for a specific human emotion. Based on your name, I'm surprised you'd feel comfortable in a hospital. Most humans here are either sick, dying or dead."

"Not in this ward," Contentment responded, gesturing into one room. Through the pane Petra could see a pregnant woman resting, her eyes closed.

Contentment's 'body' language changed completely, from conversational and amused, to utterly relaxed. After a moment her human form wavered and went back to being an amorphous cloud. Petra could hear a deep sigh come from the cloud, and felt like she'd walked in on a deep-tissue massage or something. "Are you all right?"

A nurse had recently left a nearby room and gave her a curious look, so Petra hastily raised her phone. Contentment retook her humanish shape, and looked back at her. "I'm fine. It's just.. well, you can't know true contentment until you're near a child in the womb. Such peace and serenity they feel! I'm always drawn to areas like this in every city I visit."

Petra raised her eyebrows. "So you can actually sense emotions from people?" That was a disturbing thought. Petra liked her thoughts to stay in her head if possible.

"Only at close range," Contentment explained, glancing back through the door. "My whole group feels a drive to cultivate contentment in humans. Others.. have their own priorities. We've been known to compete with each other from time to time, trying to generate our preferred emotion in as many humans as possible."

That disquiet from earlier was getting louder. "So we're like farm animals or crops to you? You harvest our contentment for nourishment or something?"

Contentment rocked backwards a bit, clearly disturbed. "No. Nothing like that! We don't need anything from humans in order to survive. Our interest in your species is purely aesthetic. We've had a fascination with human feelings ever since you first started having them. Think of us like moths, and human feelings are akin to an open flame."

Feeling a bit better, Petra nodded slowly. "So if your name is Contentment, what are others in your group called? How do you tell each other apart?"

"Heh. You catch on faster than Darius did. Of course that was about two thousand years ago, so education was a bit more primitive. No, names are just an abstraction to us. I don't really have a sound or word that signifies me as a person. We tell each other apart just by long experience. I'm only called Contentment because I'm currently the most dedicated one in my group. Eventually another will take that role, and I'll take on less essential duties. That's how it works for all fades."

No names? And apparently fades were also ageless? She was about to ask more when she became aware of someone approaching from down the hall. It was probably another nurse, and from what Petra remembered of the hospital layout, she was coming from one of the delivery rooms. Petra stepped to the side to let her pass, but the woman stopped right in front of her. "Hey, Contentment. And you must be Petra. It's so good to finally meet you!" Without warning she grabbed Petra in a tight hug. Just after letting go, she kissed Petra once on each cheek, French-style, and then stepped back while shaking her hand.

Two fierce embraces in as many days. Petra was beginning to feel a bit used, as she tried to come to terms with what had just happened. The woman was black, only about one and a half meters tall, and grinning widely. She was dressed as a nurse, and had apparently just taken off surgical gloves, from the mugginess of her hands. "Hi," Petra tried not to sound bewildered. "Who are-"

"I'm Elle," the woman cut her off. "I'm sorry. I get a bit carried away. When Contentment said she'd be meeting you here, I had to come. I just got a bit distracted helping with a delivery back there." She looked apologetically at Contentment, too.

Elle was a French name, and her accent was right as well. "You, uh, can see her?" Petra managed.

"Bien sur. Oh, right. I forgot you're not used to this yet. I'm also an," she paused and looked around briefly. "An extradimensional creature. I know all about the fades and the Veil."

Petra slowly circled Elle, who had finally let go of her hand. "You look pretty human to me."

Elle grinned again. "I spend most of my time in France, so it helps to look like one of the locals."

"So you're like Morty, then?"

"Oh, pas du tout. Morty just looks like that because I like him that way. I've always had a thing for tall men," she added in a conspiring tone.

Contentment twitched, and Petra decided to put a pin in the Morty talk for now. "Wait, you don't work here? I thought you just delivered a baby down there."

"I helped," Elle said easily. "I mostly try to keep the mother calm, if there's no friends or family in there with her. In fact, there's another one who went into labor a few hours ago. I better go soon."

The surprises were just coming too fast for Petra. "So a total stranger was willing to let you sit in on the birth of her child? And another will do the same?"

Elle gave a smug smile, and shrugged. "I have an effect on people. They trust me naturally for some reason. Maybe it's because of where I'm from. Tootles!" She left as abruptly as she'd come, waving at them on the way. Petra did feel like she was on the level, though. Whatever trust-inducing effect she had was noticeable, if it wasn't all in her head.

-.-

After apparently reveling in the contentment of unborn children for a bit longer, Petra's guide took her to another part of the hospital. Unfortunately it was the morgue: the very last place Petra would have wanted to go.

It was one of her first memories. Her mother crying into her aunt's shoulder, as the doctor said things Petra couldn't understand. The words 'car crash' had left an impression on her four-year-old mind. She'd wandered away while her aunt and mom stayed in the waiting room. She'd wandered.. into the morgue. Perhaps she'd been too small to be easily noticed, but Petra could vividly remember the body she'd seen there. And the unnaturally twisted head belonging to her father.

It hadn't been this hospital or morgue, but the effect was the same. Even Contentment seemed to notice. "Are you all right?"

"No. Why are we here?"

The fade stared at her for a moment, before apparently deciding to let it go. With an arm raised to one side, she indicated a relatively recent corpse. Petra started when she noticed another yellowish cloud move out of the wall and position itself next to the body. "That's my friend Tiss," Contentment said quietly. "Watch closely."

Amazement cut through her depression, as Petra saw the yellow cloud reshape itself just as Contentment had. It reached down to the body's right hand, and seemed to pull on it. Rather than move the hand, the fade seemed to pull another fade out of the unfortunate man's body. Or not a fade actually, now that Petra could see it more closely. It was a ghostly figure, dressed like him and looking like him- minus the broken spine.

The human figure stood slowly, looking amazed at Tiss. When he saw the body, he gasped and flinched away. Petra assumed she would have reacted the same. Tiss leaned closer and said something, and he seemed to calm down a bit. The fade led him out of the room, nodding briefly at Contentment as they passed.

"What did I just witness?" Petra asked, moving away from the morgue, which was certainly off-limits to hospital guests. She was starting to think that nothing could surprise her anymore. "Are ghosts actually real?"

"No. When a human dies, the EM energy in their body persists for a few hours. Tiss, or Satisfaction as he's known to the Veil, has taken it upon himself to help the recently dead. He takes them to see their friends and loved ones. To say goodbye, if they died in an accident like that man did."

"That must be the basis behind the human myths about ghosts," Petra said after thinking about it. "Can they show themselves to humans, like Greed did to me?"

Contentment shook her head. "They don't last long, but it is a chance for them to gain closure before they go.. wherever is next."

"Closure? What about justice? Some of those people might be murder victims! If they have a few hours, they might be able to identify their killers. Do any fades help in that way?" Petra took in a reflexive breath as she thought about seances. "They could use mediums and other paranormal grifters to help people." Petra had never believed in what those people claimed they could do, but perhaps with help from the fades, they could actually reach the 'other side'.

"Some of us did," Contentment said, and the sadness was clear in her voice. "About a hundred years ago there was a Justice faction. It was an offshoot of Rage's people: righteous indignation and the desire to settle the score. I'm afraid they didn't last very long- they all eventually split up and joined other groups. There just aren't enough humans who care about justice to make such a group viable."

"Hey," a voice put in from behind them, and Petra turned to see Nick coming down the stairs. "It's getting late."

"How did you know we were down here?"

"She told me," Nick nodded at Contentment. "This is the last stop, at least as far as her faction goes. Others will want to meet you, but that can wait."

"He's right," Contentment said after a moment, reaching out to Nick's phone so he could hear as well. "I should go. I'm sorry to leave things on such a dour note."

"It's all right," Petra assured her. "I've learned a lot today. Thank you."

Contentment bowed and moved backwards, forming into an undefined cloud again before passing through a wall. Petra shook her head at that. "We ran into a woman named Elle upstairs. Do you know her?"

"Oh, yeah. Did she hug and kiss you the moment you met?" Petra nodded, and Nick grimaced, taking off his sunglasses now that they were no longer needed. "It's her thing. I think she'd hug the fades too, if she could."

"Just how many extradimensional creatures are there anyway?"

"Aside from the fades, just Morty and Elle. At least as far as we know. There could be many more out there, but we haven't had contact with anything else."

Petra knew she should head upstairs, but something was keeping her. Had her father's electromagnetic ghost been one of Tiss' beneficiaries? Given how many people died every single minute, it seemed unlikely. "I last saw my father in a room like this," she said softly.

"I know," Nick said gently. "It's not an easy thing for a kid to bear. My parents were killed when I was six, along with my two brothers."

That snapped her out of it. "I'm sorry," she said, realizing how much worse this must be for him. "If I can ask.. who did it?"

"No idea, really. It was a gang shooting in Zagreb, Croatia, where I was born. A bunch of people were killed. My full name is Nikola Rukavina, by the way. I've just spent most of my life around Americans. Anyway, Darius thought that the gang war might have been instigated by fades, which made it his responsibility. He made sure I was adopted in the States. When I was old enough, he offered me a job with the Veil. I've been working with him ever since." There was regret and pain in his voice, but no bitterness that Petra could hear. If he blamed the fades for his lot in life, Nick was hiding it pretty well.

It seemed Petra wasn't the only 'ordinary' person Darius had protected over the years. Was that why he was interested in her family? Had the fades threatened them in some way? If so, it was probably Greed. Petra had only skimmed the reading material Chuck had given her, but it seemed that organized crime was pretty solidly Greed's territory. None of the other factions had much interest in it. As she pondered that, she caught sight of something by the door to the morgue. Nick wasn't wearing his sunglasses; he hadn't seen it.

"We should go," Nick said after a few more moments. "The hospital's open all hours, but there aren't any fades here. I doubt Elle's still here either. She uses dimensional travel to get around, so she's probably back in France by now."

"I'm gonna stick around, actually," Petra said with some certainty. "I've got some thinking to do."

"Are you sure? We didn't exactly come here by car, remember," Nick raised his key for emphasis.

"Go on. I'll call someone for a ride when I'm ready."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:48:04 AM by Daen »