The world had changed, and not for the better. As the years tumbled into the next, different generations had accepted the disparity between those with and those without S.I.N. They had grown accustomed to the hierarchy, where those smartly dressed betters were financially, intelligently and genetically superior. S.I.N produced no outwardly physical difference, yet it left a lasting trace over the lives of those with it. The change was swift and brutal. Humanity was put up on the shelf for later while this new world grappled with the gulf of difference, allowing it to be filled with years of pent up racism, discrimination and an endless lists of phobias which were now all legitimised. A caste system emerged that everyone now subscribed to, for God had made it all this way. Supposedly.
People now accepted how things were, and those at the top gave no thought to changing things. Why would they, they were supreme. Shuffling to and fro in their lives with all the abundance at their disposal.
The three of them watched them now, the inhabitants of the city, rushing about in the streets below from the vantage point of the library. A huge glass wall jutted out on one side of the room, scrapping its glassy finger into the city air beyond the walls; giving a balcony view down into the city. Jess watched the people in their finery, hopping aboard Tsutsumi transportation and disappearing off around the city streets or into tunnels which lead to other caves of wonders beneath the pavement.
Levon and Jess had followed Nina into the huge library, its feel quite different from the almost tropical room before. It was a library in the sense of books stacked high in huge bookshelves, some of which curved over at the top, transporting their precious contents over in gravity defying suspension above their heads. In the centre of the room a huge glass orb seemed to drip upwards from the glass floor, a perfect sphere which hummed and glowed with a translucent blue and green light. Jess at first thought it was just a globe of the world, but looking at it further she realised it was more than that. At the centre there was indeed the world, as she knew it, surrounding it however were layers of dimensions, each were encapsulating a new landscape which flowed and moved like bits on a chess board. Swathes of mist and vapour moved around these other levels, and Jess knew then what she was looking out. It was the Altered, a dimensional representation of the other world which, according to the moving diorama before her, surrounded the world.
Nina offered them a seat on the half-moon chairs that surrounded the globe and went to a small drinks trolley that stood by a huge hologram that displayed famous images from literature, changing every few seconds. She returned with some drinks for them and sat down next to Jess.
“Please forgive the somewhat half-baked reception, ideally I would show you around more Jess and be more forthcoming about this place and what we do. I no doubt presume you’ve been told most things by Karen and Levon here, but there are many levels to the order and many many things regarding the Altered and the magic which, I’d wager, you’d be keen to know.” Nina said. She spoke quietly, yet firmly. An underlying strength concealed in her soft quiet words.
“Jess knows enough I’d say. The best knowledge is practice and she’s already been baptised now. She’s been to the Altered already, and if I may speak for her; she’s keen to get to work.” Levon said, looking surprisingly timidly from Jess to Nina.
Jess nodded in agreement. Something about Nina made her crave her good approval or good graces.
“Well, to work then we must get. For there is much to do.” Nina replied, taking a sip from her own glass. The pink liquid within stained the rim before melting back down into a diamond pink glow in the bottom.
“We know what Aiko has planned, and the two points in the city in which he intends to unleash the virus. Now it’s easy enough, relatively speaking, to stop him. We have the agents and means to do so. We also know his plan and timeline, so we can orchestrate our own in which to combat his. I see two problems right now. ” Nina said.
“Just two?” Levon asked.
“Come now Levon, as your teacher I know your abilities. Stopping a crazed super-villain would be a walk in the park for you.” Nina replied.
“Well, now that I have my trusty sidekick too.” Levon said, cheekily.
“I don’t think so.” Jess added tautly.
From a bookcase on the far side, a seismic shudder seemed to reverberate from the selves. Jess looked over to the case. Old books were stacked upon it, but there was something different about them.
“It seems the Altered is becoming impatient.” Nina said, referring to the books which now began to ooze a vapour. Dark spots also appeared on the globe in front of them, small patches of shadow like a bruise on a peach seemed to swell and dissipate around the sphere.
“This is one of the problems. The Altered has been infected too much by Aiko’s presence. It has unbalanced the very fabric there, and it too must be cleansed. Now, if we can stop Aiko; we assume that the darkness won’t grow any further. We need to cleanse it, and restore it to what it was. That’s where you come in Levon.” Nina said, looking at Levon earnestly.
“Yep, one step ahead of you. I figured that’s what I would be called upon to do.” Levon said.
“It’s your abilities that we need to stop the corruption in the Altered, but we need to make sure Aiko’s access and interference has stopped. We need to revoke the magic he has tainted.” She added.
“So we need to intercept him and his plan, replace the agent with our own and then cleanse the Altered?” Levon asked.
“Yes. That’s the long and short of it.” Nina replied.
“So what’s the second problem?” Jess asked, her own drink now empty. She put the glass down on a small glass table at her side.
“The second problem is, as Karen no doubt told you, that our own pathogen is not yet ready. If we swap it with Aiko’s then we risk doing similar damage to his own.”
“Then why don’t we just wait? Stop him releasing his and wait until the cure is fully ready? What’s the rush?” Jess asked.
Levon turned to Nina also, curious to hear her answer.
“I agree we should, and would if we things weren’t so unpredictable. But this might be our only chance to release our cure, as you put it, on a mass scale with the aid of Aiko’s technology.” Nina replied.
“What do you mean? Once we have it, we can use it at our own conveyance.” Levon said.
Nina shook her head.
“As dangerous and deranged as Aiko is, and as extensive as our own enterprises is, we don’t have his resources or indeed technology. We’ve tried with our own trials and transmutation machines. They just don’t cut.” Nina said.
Levon looked angry, his brow furrowed and he looked at the floor as if some answer lay there. He went on.
“But why the rush, can’t we just keep the technology once we acquire it?” Levon said.
“Ideally yes, but our sources indicate that Aiko has systems in place that suggest that once compromised they will become inoperable.” Nina said with a sigh.
“A self-destruct. We are in a movie aren’t we?” Levon said with frustration.
“I understand your reasoning though. I agree that we do things on our own time-frame. But it has been escalated and this may be our only chance. If the Altered can’t be cleansed, and the damage done by Aiko is irreparably, then we won’t have more chances. It’s now or never.” Nina said.
“So that is quite a problem. What’s the solution?” Jess asked.
Nina took a moment, looking into both their eyes, almost scanning for understanding.
“Well Jess, the solution hopefully resides with you on this one.” Nina replied.