The sun had stopped shining now, the wind that had blown in from the east seemingly to extinguish the light like a dying candle struggling to survive. The day was young still, yet the streets were empty. People at work, kids in school. The ordinary pluck of the strings of life vibrated through the city. Heavy now with silence, it weighted on his shoulders as he rounded a bend and dove down a graffitied lane, sneaking inside a side door. He carried a small brown paper bag, but its contents; like people, were more precious than the coverings.
“Did anybody see you?” The voice in the shadows asked.
“Nobody ever sees me.” He replied, pulling down his hood.
The other man sighed, seemingly resigned to thinking this was all a game to him. He motioned him to follow as he made his way along a dark corridor. They passed the kitchen of the small Chinese restaurant and slipped through a door that led up a flight of stairs. The stairway was small and dirty, boxes of cooking oil were stacked on high making it difficult to pass. Foreign labels and battered cardboard, cheap easy food to feed hundreds.
“Are you sure this works, your source is good?” the man asked the younger as he ascended the small flight.
The man in the hoody stopped walking up the stairs, remaining on the third step from the bottom.
“Am I wasting my time here?” He asked in reply.
Their eyes caught in the dull light of the stairwell, dying embers of brown met the fiery defiance of hazel. The sound of the streets beyond the walls rung through them, a tram’s bell tinkered off in the distance reminding them of their place deep inside the city. Inside the belly of the beast.
“No, I am sorry. It’s just, they have put all their hope into this.” The older man said, opening his hand in a peaceful gesture.
“Hope is all we have it seems.” The younger man replied and continued on up the stairs. They both carried on to the top and walked across the landing until they reached a small crowded room that stunk of fried food and desperation. Inside, more people than the room should allow seemed to reside in every part of it. Beds had been stacked on top of each other and bodies filled them, young and old. The middle of the room had an upturned box used as a makeshift table, similar to those he had passed on the stairs, stained with the oil from within perhaps. It was covered with food boxes, cups and the faint glow of a phone’s light.
“It is here.” The older man announced, and the people inside the room began to stir. The younger man followed him in and moved towards the small table. He pushed some of the empty boxes onto the floor and then placed the paper bag on top, then stood back. The older man appeared at his side, placing a hand on his shoulder which he flinched to.
“May I?” the older man asked, motioning towards the bag.
“Be my guest.” The young man said and watched as he approached the bag, unfolding the top with his eyes alive like a child’s at Christmas.
The light that was emitted was the blinding kind, the type that strains the back of your eyes, giving you an instant headache. The blue neon glow reflected the watchful and hopeful eyes that clung to it like hungry wolves. In a moment, the room was silent; washed clean and quiet by the light which swayed and swelled around the space like water. Through the silence came little whispers, tiny sound hands that crawled out of the bag along with the light. They were calm and comforting, finding their way all over those in the room. It banished the darkness momentarily, those witnessing a shifting of paradigms, of time and space.
No one had noticed, entrapped in what was taking place, but the younger man had closed his eyes when it had occurred. His eyes were tightly shut, his face screwed up into something which displayed pain and endurance; like suffering a scalding bath. This was not his first time of course, but it never got easier for him. That light, that sweet calming emittance was so tempting, so enticing; yet he couldn’t see it. Not for what it was, detached it seemed to the hope it brought.
The light began to fade, and the room was filled with a swirling blue mist, a mystical offshoot of what had taken place. The young man approached the bag and rolled back the opening before picking it up. The older man stood next to him still as a statue. The others in the room too did not move either, engulfed it seemed in what had taken place. The younger man knew what occurred of course, each time was the same. The light would come, the feelings descended, their minds would be erased in the moment as the magic took hold. Silence would remain for some time after, the cells inside them re-aligning. He would always depart before they came to. He had stayed once before and could not contend with the questions and the gratitude. It would layer on him like a sticky tar. He wasn’t saving their lives; he wasn’t taking them out of this pit they had found themselves in. It was why he would charge so much, to balance the scales. He wasn’t deserving of their thanks.
He was not their messiah.
The bag, gripped tightly in his hands, made its way along with him out the door and back down the small messy stairway. The sound of the city and the restaurant clattered into his head and he stepped out into the lane where the fresh air and return of time rushed back through his bones. He walked up to the main street where the trams and the traffic had begun to flow faster. Turning right onto William Street he darted past the ‘others’ now, as they had begun to file out of the buildings. He could always feel it worse in the masses, when they would stand next to him at crossings or bump into him on the metro. The science he understood, the magic he knew; but still it made his insides squirm. How they had changed, all from simple choices, from where we had all begun. This ‘othering’ which now encased them.
He sped home faster, keen to get off the streets now. The bag, still in his hand, felt lighter and he gripped it tightly still until he was able to close the door of his apartment high on the 28th floor, placing it back into the lobster red containment box he kept on the floor of his wardrobe. With things safely put away, he was able to sit on the floor of his lounge and exhale long and hard. He, Levon the light bringer. A name he hated.
What a conjuring word. The sins of our forbearers. Original sin. Mortal sin. Terminology streaked in religious dogma and guilt seemed so fitting. Something dirty. Who knew when the term was used first, or by whom? The masses took it quickly into their bosom, posting and terming, judging and labelling it quickly throughout society. On the outside it looked like a class or monetary argument, but it was deeper than that. The genetics had become maligned, distorted somehow by a system of the haves and the wants. The cells of society seemed to have physically shifted in the face of such gross disproportion, reducing many down a structure that seemed to only now support the rich. Circumstances prevailed, physically changing your genetics. Inferior bodies, development growth and intelligence. You were now a prisoner to who you are. A ‘SIN’ had infected you, a type that could not be removed by a few hail Marys or dousing yourself in holy water.
The move came quickly. Society split, forcing those with ‘SIN’ into city ghettos, necessary workers and entities to carry on the menial tasks they did not care to do. No chance of change or bettering yourself. No chances at all. The rich, smartly dressed and generically stable were now validated by their superiority which unlocked a new life and development of their own DNA. Over a short time, this evolved further, an ‘othering’ which separated them further from those languishing in their circumstances suffering with ‘SIN’. Governments and organisations rallied around the strong and justified, with law enforcements and judicial systems installing sweeping changes to daily lives. Religions followed suit, amending their doctrines to select the wheat from the chaff; doing away with the masses that could not benefit from their own frameworks of control. There was no revolution, just and overnight paradigm shift. Few fought back, too entrenched in the lies told and the increased unfairness that hid behind supposed common sense. The morality compass had been smashed, taken apart and reset to point to a north only a few could follow.
‘SIN’ Sporogenous Infirmity Nano-mutation. But no one called it by its fancy name. If you were rich, well connected or lacking little, then you were the ‘other’. A better many claimed. Cycled through a world with ease and self-arrogance. Tested from birth to see your grouping, you were processed through life in an A or B group. The ‘Others’ wore fake smiles of compassion, assuming tolerance and indifference were the same thing. Those with ‘SIN’ lost hope, suffering in a space that showed no sign of changing. Dooming generations ahead to injustice and further adversity. All down to what was underneath. They bled the same, but that was where it seemed the similarities ended. And some had even begun to change that, developing different medical and genetic modification to their already supposedly superior human bodies. The blood of Christ that washed inside us all had been improved upon.
Within this dichotomy however, there was Levon. Origins unknown, he was neither an ‘Other’ nor inflicted with ‘SIN’. A biological mistake perhaps, or lucky mutation. Able to shift between both worlds, he had found a way to balance the scales and take the injustice and squash it underfoot. Known to the authorities as a cleanser, he trod a dangerous road, and risked his life daily. Though some knew of Levon’s abilities, they did not know how he was able to do what he did. They did not know that Levon had stepped into another world, between the warring factions of his own. He, Levon, the light barer; knew of a world of magic that resided between the slices of science that determined everyone’s life. And he had found a way to change the unchangeable.
“Did it work?”
“Of course it did, it always works.”
“That one time. It always works with those who need it the most.” Levon replied into the phone. He drank from a glass, a murky green liquid that coated the sides. He placed the glass down and moved out onto his balcony. The vista before him was the city that he called home. That he currently called home at least, his bones had been born much further away from the stretching skyscrapers that he saw before him. The light reflected off the window glass, a giant mirror that blinded those who took the time to raise their eyes up into the sky.
“How much did you charge them?” the voice asked him.
“10.” Levon replied, without a hint of remorse. A silence hung on the phone.
“You know that is steep, even for you?”
“I know, but there were more of them this time.”
“Yes, but it’s all they…..” But Levon cut in.
“I know that it’s all they had. It’s all they ever have. They put everything into this. Their last roll of the dice. But I helped, I did it for them; and they have changed because of it. I don’t feel bad taking their money you know. Now they have the chance to go make more than they ever dreamed of.” Levon sighed.
“It’s more than that for them…. I’m not giving you a hard time, it’s just…. I know you’re better than this.” The voice allowed for the words and then the silence to sit.
“I know I am.” Levon replied, sighing once again.
“And you know that nothing lasts forever. This gift came to you, and it can go just as easily. You need to be doing more with it.”
“How do you know I’m not?” Levon replied. The voice was quiet, thinking. Levon watched the traffic in the streets below. Little toy cars moving in slow motion.
“I hope you are. If you need help, you only have to ask.” The voice replied.
“Thank you. I will do soon.” Levon said.
“Then when you’re ready to talk about it, let me know.” And with that, the call ended.
Levon stood on his balcony, breathing in the city air. He felt the blood moving in his body, the wash and pulse of the magic that he held in his cells. He pinched his fingers together, seeing the refill mass and the white skin give way to the red river in his finger when he released them.
He went inside his apartment, sliding the door shut loudly behind him. The room before him breathed an air of absence, of only necessity. Accompanying the chairs and television screen, only a single bookshelf gave any peak to a character. No photos or artwork adorned the walls or the empty spaces. This was a place of need. The books that were lined up on the shelves were packed in like commuters on a busy train at rush hour. Huge books sat comfortably next to tiny preciously bound ones, their reflective wrappings catching specks of light, shimmering out echoes of the forbidden and treasured words.
Levon approached the bookshelf and slid a large book off of the middle shelf. He took it over to the table he had, empty of anything aside a small plant that was in need of watering. He sat down at the table, placing his feet squarely underneath. Sitting upright and focused, with one hand he gripped the edge of the table whilst the other lifted the cover of the book which exploded open with a blue light, radiating off of his eyes like a mystical waterfall.
Peace. That’s where this magic always took him. Away from the city, from the guilt. Away from the eyes always searching for him, or the others that hung with pity. He sometimes came just to escape, though he was told he could never linger. He felt the blue light wash through his veins as he passed over into that world, out into the Altered. He dropped all constraints of the world that bound him. Up was neither down nor above, it simply was just. Time had no possession of the place, the space itself was both endless and contained. It moulded to the mind of those who entered.
Today in the Altered, the world was cavernous. The blue light that exploded in each moment sucked to the invisible walls that surrounded him, as if in a large cave. His mind was clouded and blocked in, thoughts echoing within him from some past voice. The space mirrored this now, his footsteps resounding back as he made his way further forward. He felt grounded, yet nothing lay below him, like walking on air. Only the electron blue particles that buzzed in their infinite gave any dimensions until he forged what he wanted, what he needed. Now the cave took shape, a pool and stone island appearing before him as some ancient Neolithic alter. Voices danced in his ear, tantric sounds that soothed and caressed him.
He made his way forward to the large stone slab and placed a book upon it from his pocket. It was the same book he used to enter this realm. It was his key to all the wonder. He opened the book to an appropriate page and rolled up his sleeves. He then dug his hands deep into the rock which was soft like sand. He pulled his fist up, creating two stone flasks that slowly turned transparent. He made the flasks similar to those found in laboratories that contain a host of nature’s wonders, as a child he loved seeing the different coloured liquids swirling in the base, waiting to be mixed into a kind of magic.
Out of his pocket he took a thimble with a small spike at the end and dug it quickly into his wrist. His face registered no pain, only the calm that had found him when he entered the world. He drained his blood into the flask on his left, filling it almost to the brim. Already the blood had begun to change, flecks of red crystals had begun to form, darkening the blood and forming lumps in the flask. It slowly got darker, turning to purple then to a blue.
In the other flask, Levon whispered over the rim some words he read from the book. Softly, as if lulling a child to sleep, broken bits of a language tumbled from his mouth. The flask began to radiate and come alive, a strong neon brilliance filling it up. He took this flask and poured it into the other. The reaction was instant. The space exploded with a pure blight flash and the flask churned with a blue and white liquid which seemed to dance inside it. Levon smiled, another successful transformation. He looked at his wrist, it had healed. Nothing showed where he had dug so willingly into his skin.
He popped a stopper into the flask and bowed in appreciation. He muttered a few more words, which rebounded off the walls of the cave and seemed to disappear up beyond, collected by winds that blew a soft smell of eucalyptus. Levon picked up the book and put it once more into his pocket and began to retreat his steps, mumbling some words under his breath. The world collapsed and he returned back to his apartment quickly, his hand gripping the table once more. He opened his eyes to find he was now not alone at the table.
“Hello Levon, long time no see.” She said.
He wasn’t surprised, she had done this before. She had a key after all and would sometimes come by without telling him. It had been a while though, and their last meeting hadn’t been too pleasant. Home truths, on both sides, hadn’t landed well and he was glad of the distance and space as a result.
Jess sat opposite him now, her face friendly yet revealed nothing. She was holding a book herself, smaller than the one Levon had used to go into the Altered, but it was similar in design and he knew what it was. Sweat trickled from his head after his journey over and back, and he was thirsty too, like always. She pushed across a glass of water, which he took up quickly, emptying it before talking.
“And what do I have this pleasure for?” He asked, setting the glass back on the table and wiping his brow.
“Pleasure for you, but a chore for me.” Jess said, toying with the book in her hands as she sat forward.
“I was being sarcastic.” He replied.
“Of course you were Levon, as you always are. You can never be direct, or sincere or transparent.” Her words hung over the table. He looked away.
“What do you want?” He asked, the irritation sticky in the words.
“I want you to do what you do best. There’s a family I want cleansed, and I need it done quickly.” She said.
“I figured as much. And you always want things done quickly, and specifically…and to your specification. It must really annoy you that you don’t have this ability, having to rely on me and my…what was it, pathetic and backward ways of handling life.” Levon said. He bore his eyes into her own. Jess looked away, irritated.
“Once again you put your own needs in the way of others.” She said, smiling in satisfaction before continuing. “For your information, this isn’t about me or what I want. This will change everything, eventually.”
Levon paused before replying, searching her eyes for the reasons. He found them tucked in there between the iris and starlight the he could always see in the honest.
“Who and why?” he said.
“They are the Tanakas, and they live over on the west side.”
“They’re always on the west side.” Levon blurted out.
“And we all know why they’re all in the west side, we know who’s pushed them there. Geez, listen will you. The Tanakas live in a shared house, there’s five other families there with them. They live on the top floor. The place is a dump, the usual. We need them cleansed as soon as possible. I think they are the answer to all this.” Jess said. She got up now and moved across to the bookshelf. She clutched her own small book still but ran her fingers across the spines of the others on the shelf. It came to rest on a book, which she tapped before sliding it out of its place.
“And what is the answer to the question we all know then?” Levon asked.
Jess turned to face him. Her eyes wide yet filled with hope.
“Because the Tanakas are the dirty little secret of the one and only Akio Tsutsumi. And I think we have a way of getting your amazing abilities to a much wider audience.” Jess said, suddenly alive with more urgency.
Levon looked at her, wondering what plan she had formed in her mind. Jess moved, not on impulse, but from a place of strategy and calculation. Her anger from all the injustice was ploughed into ways of overturning the system that had raised the few and lowered the many. She herself, a product from the tainted world of SIN where her blood directed her supposed path. That anger and disillusion spread, forcing her into the revolutional world of the likes of Levon. Levon, a lone wolf in a rising group of defiers. Of lights in a darkening world. Their alliance was problematic, but they wanted the same thing in the end. Equality.
“The asshole of the year you mean. What’s Tsutsumi got to do with your plan?” Levon asked, also getting up and moving across to where Jess stood. He took the small book she was clutching, opening it up. It shimmered too with a familiar blue light.
“Take a look for yourself.” she said, and she whispered over the book he had held open. The book flickered forward through some pages before a mist began to seep out, wafting upwards. The blue light seemed to charge through the cloud like an electricity circuit before images began to appear and move, like a floating screen. He saw what Jess had in mind.
Across the city, at the time Levon had come out from the Altered, Akio Tsutsumi sat at his desk high up in the 101 building. The skyscraper on the south side of the city looked off over to the port where, if he was looking, he would see the ferries leaving the docks and making their way out to the ocean. Akio wasn’t looking out at the view, high up on the 101st floor, he was finalising a document with a smile. The final flourish of his signature completed the task and he set his pen to the side and sat back in his chair.
Akio Tsutsumi was impeccably dressed, he had to be, he was at work. His business, his building, his empire here on earth. Or at least the headquarters of an empire that stretched far across the globe. The problem with empires, and to those that want after them, is that they are never enough. There is always more to conquer, more to have, and more to consume.
This notion of greed had plagued Akio since he was a child. Growing up in conditions he would let no-one privy to now, he had been incensed by his circumstance. He had watched as others had excelled, moved on and up with all the niceties that a life could offer. While he had remained, reduced down to an allotted placement and allowance in the order of things. But Akio would dig himself out of the circumstance, he would bloom like a flower out of the mud of life and never forget where he had started. For many, this would have led to an understanding of the unbalance, perhaps even campaign to end the wrongful ways the world was turning in. But for Akio, he had been damaged and maligned.
Broken and used by both sides of the system. He removed any shame that might stick to his cells along with the SIN, and in its place, he filled it with anger and contempt. Not entirely, however. Akio’s secret could indeed be his undoing; a fact that he was well aware of. And he took great care to protect and hide this, whatever it took.
A further step in this direction was what was contained in the documents, now signed, sitting on his desk.
Akio pushed back from the large wooden desk before him and stood up. He straightened his smart expensive suit, a suit that cost more than his assistant Stefan earned in a year and called him into his office. Stefan looked agitated as he entered, uncertain perhaps of what was happening. Akio usually set very strict routines, ones you could set your overpriced watch by, and today’s activity so far had changed many of them.
“Yes sir?” Stefan asked, lingering in the door area of the huge office space.
Akio had now turned away, looking out of the window. He watched the boats out to sea, the huge ferries passing the smaller ones seemingly not to notice them bob frantically as they passed. He remained staring off out the window.
“How long have you worked for me Stefan?” Akio asked, pleasantly.
“Almost a year sir.” Stefan replied. He loosened the top button to his Oxford shirt.
“And in that time, have I asked you to do anything for me that goes against your, shall we say, moral compass?”
Stefan paused for moment before answering, he reached inside his own mind both looking for a truthful reply and balancing it off with the correct one.
“No, not to my knowledge. I find you to be a very honourable person, and if I might add; someone to aspire to be like.” Stefan said sincerely. And it was true, many of the others would trade places with him in a heartbeat. Akio was the epitome of success and class.
“You’re very kind Stefan. You’ve always spoken honestly, which is why I trust you.” Akio turned now to face him, offering him a smile. “I trust then you feel the same as I with the west side.”
Stefan looked at him, unsure.
“How the west side of the city is a blot on our greatness. A pebble in the shoe of our progress. A blight, a cancerous tumour in all we wish this city to be.” Akio said. He stood proudly; hands folded down in front of him as if posing for a magazine cover.
“Well, yes the area there is very dilapidated. It could all use some gentrification in my opinion. Some nice suburbs and a change of clientele.” Stefan said.
“Exactly, a change in clientele. That’s what is needed.” Akio said.
“But it has been proposed for years, and nothing ever came of it. The sinners have legal protection for their ghettos and housing projects. We’d never be able to have them removed.” Stefan offered.
“No, I agree. They will never leave. They are stuck to that area like a barnacle on a ship.” His voice was soft, devoid of any emotion. “But then, accidents happen all the time. Don’t they?”
Stefan stared at him. He shuffled his own expensive shoes nervously.
“All the time.” Stefan replied, his own hatred massaged by unfolding suggestions. A hatred which he was free now to express, with the privilege of position.
“Accidents and calamities. Acts of God.” Akio added, pulling the cuff to his suit down, straightening it.
Jess was by the front door of Levon’s apartment, she seemed eager to go.
“Come on then, I assume you’re ready?” She asked.
Levon stood and watched her a moment, his mind navigating through what he had seen and trying to work out if it was achievable. Indeed, the Tanakas held a secret Aiko would care to avoid having revealed, but her plan was a drop in the ocean of a problem.
“You think that will work?” Levon asked, his face subduing tiny flickers of doubt.
“You got a better plan?” Jess asked before adding. “Unless you want to just hide away and let this unfold without you?”
“Don’t make out you don’t need me for this.” Levon cut back.
Jess rolled her eyes, expecting this type of reply.
“Come on, we can get there before they shut.” Jess said with urgency. Levon walked towards the door, taking a biker jacket off a hook and putting it on. He stopped in front of Jess. He felt her urgency, and her desire to correct things. He had watched her for a while go against the insurmountable. Perhaps it was time she helped in a bigger way; she had proven herself to him at least.
“Fine, but we’re not going there. You want my help, then I need to make sure I can give it.” Levon said.
“What do you mean?” Jess asked, surprised.
“You’re coming to see the Bishop.” Levon said, intrigued to see her reaction. Jess took a moment, looking away as if looking for the right words over on the wall. She turned back to him; her eyes wide.
“About time.” She said, hiding the feeling he knew she had. And with that they both set off out the door, each holding their own little books tightly to them as they made their way down in the elevator.
They sped down the twenty-eight floors quickly, not talking as they went. They exited out into a small lobby and then to the street which was moving with a bustle of city life. Well-dressed men and women crowded the sidewalk, each going off to their own little space and place to be. Levon and Jess attracted a few stares, their clothing did not fit and their overall look of rough and readiness did not blend in well. They moved on through the crowd, making their way to the tram stop.
As the tram came to a stop, more people exited, brushing past them both; the two of them together seemed to double the disgust of the others. Some of them tutted as they passed, while others barged into them purposefully. One woman stopped and jabbed her umbrella into Levon’s side.
“You two should fuck off the streets while decent people are about. Shouldn’t you be driving the tram, not riding in it?” She said, scornfully addressing them and looking them both up and down. Others smiled and nodded in agreement as they went on by.
Jess made a move forward, but Levon pulled her back.
“It’s not worth it.” He said, quietly to her. He then spoke to the woman who had jabbed at him.
“We’re sorry, it’s an emergency. We wouldn’t be travelling now if we didn’t have to.” He said, noticing how busy it was. The rush hour was always the worse for this type of thing. Levon could pass sometimes, he would blend in with his outfits and manner. But Jess stood out like a sore thumb, dressed in casual combat gear and dyed hair. Conformity was not something Jess subscribed to.
“I should think not. We don’t want to see your lot, I thought that was clear by now. Get out of my way.” The lady said, pushing past them with her umbrella. Jess mumbled something under her breath, but then made her way onto the tram; followed by Levon.
They stayed at the back while it snaked its way across the city, emptying and refilling as it went. They received more unwelcomed looks, but no one else approached them. Finally, they reached the stop they wanted, exiting out by some gardens that sprawled off into the distance. They waited for the tram to move on and quickly crossed the road on the other side. More gardens greeted them as the huge black church loomed above. They turned left, making their way down a side street that looped around the back of the church. Here they found a small building opposite the left transept. It had a large ornate wooden door with a knocker in the shape of a cross.
Jess and Levon looked around. The sky was getting dark, but they could still see the street from the doorway. A few heads bobbed along, but no-one was really watching. Ignoring the knocker, Levon put his fist into a small alcove at the side of the door as a little blue light appeared and scanned his hand. A click and a whirl, and a chain dropped for him to pull, which he did and then he stepped back. The door opened before them as the ground also dropped away, revealing a staircase down into a blue and green lit corridor.
“How cool is that.” Jess said, noticing the marks on Levon’s hand; tattoos she’d always thought meant nothing.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Levon replied, stepping forward down onto the stairs. Jess followed him as the door quickly closed behind them and they descended.
The blue and green lights seemed to call them onward encouragingly, radiating from the walls like a welcoming glow. Jess and Levon descended lower with each step, feeling a warmer air greet them as they went. Jess could hear a pulsating sonic sound coming from the walls, as if large computer systems were speaking to each other through the stone or mutterings of the dead from the graves.
“Is it always this elaborate, going to see him?” Jess asked, minding her head as they came to a low beam section.
“I thought you might like the clandestine way.” Levon said. He had been here before, naturally; but they also seemed to change the systems of entry frequently. “And who said anything about a him?”
Jess looked at him for a moment, confusion and understanding swimming around each other.
“The Bishop is a she?” She asked, hoping to sound less surprised than she was. Levon smiled at her.
“Change anything?” He asked her.
“Not a damn bit.” She replied, lying slightly.
They carried on down the stairs until they came to a less formal but equally solid door. A blue strip of light bathed the space outside the door and Levon stopped just before it.
“You first.” He said, nudging her forward towards the light. Jess stepped into it and suddenly changed to a deeper blue.
“It checks for contaminants, among other things.” Levon said, watching as the light hummed and pulsed over her.
“Let me guess what the other things are, SIN markers perhaps?” She said, irksomely.
“You be surprised what they check for.” He replied, noticing the light switch to green; followed by a successful ‘tink’ sound, like the finishing of a coffee machine.
“Looks like you’re good.” He said as she stood back, and he stood forth into the light.
“Hmmph.” Came from Jess as she stood back and watched Levon go through the same process. It took longer, but he too received the same acceptance, and once complete the doors before them opened and they could see inside the room.
Before them a laboratory had been made up around the stone coffins, clearly down deep in a crypt under the church. About four people peppered the room, working at stations and swirling strange coloured liquids in tubes under lights. Computers and machines clicked and hummed, and the same blue and green lights gently lit the space, washing the walls with a calm and sanctuary like illumination. Coming towards them suddenly came a woman dressed in a lab coat. A red face mask covered her mouth, but Jess could see she had kind gentle eyes. She pulled the mask down as she approached them both.
“Nice to see you Levon, a treat indeed for you to come down into the vault and see us.” She extended her hand towards Jess who noticed the red gloves that extended up to her elbow. “And you must be Jess, so nice to meet you. I’m Karen.” Jess extended her own hands and shook them.
“Nice to meet you too.” Jess said, looking around the room.
“Not many get to see the vault, so please excuse the mess.” Karen said. Jess noticed little mess, but large extraction machines, screens scrolling through vast amounts of data and blueprint plans tacked up on a board on the other side of the room. The effigy of a saint looked down upon them from above.
“Jess doesn’t know anything, I thought it best to leave it to you to explain what goes on.” Levon said, with a smirk across his face. Karen sighed, leading them in further to the room.
“I hope you don’t have the same disdain as Levon does for what we do here then, his attitudes become quite tiresome sometimes.” Karen said, smiling.
“Not just his attitude, he’s quite a pain most of the time.” Jess said, returning the smile to her.
“Siding with the Bishop already, who’d have thought?” Levon cut back to her. Jess looked surprised.
“Oh Levon, you and your names for people. Should I call you The Cleanser then, or do you prefer your usual name devoid of the implications or grandiose expectations?” She asked him coyly. Levon smiled back, enjoying the teasing.
“You…you’re the bishop then?” Jess asked, folding her arms both defensively and from an anger.
“I’m afraid I am, for all my faults.” Karen said, her face remaining warm and open.
“And you’re not ashamed for what you’ve caused people, what your system of selection has done. Playing god, the way you do?” Jess was angry, but she was trying her best to stay calm.
“I understand you have a personal qualm with me and what we do then?” Karen replied.
“Not just me, many. When you can help the all and yet only choose the few.” Jess spat back. “You have the means to cure everyone, but you limit to whom you feel are warranted of changing. How are you any different from the others, or the likes of Tsutsumi?”
Karen let her speak, understanding of her complaint. She then calmly took off her gloves, revealing a blackness that stained its way up her arms.
“I will show you how.” She said, her eyes flaring with an excitement.
It was just a short trip by air to the processing site near the west port. Flying over the city, you could see a sense of order and refinement. The skyscrapers gleamed, and the roads were angular and planned out. The public transport operated on a level never before seen in the world. This wasn’t dirty congested tubes that racketed around on tracks, here the elegant transit sparkled like the buildings, ferrying commuters in style and luxury to their destinations using the latest magnetised technology.
Aiko looked now over the cityscape, pondering over the order and the harmony below. He saw his own technology zip through the streets, part of his ever-growing empire of business and wealthy assets. His fingerprints lay over much of what he saw, and he smiled at the dominance that stretched out before him. There was order and cleanliness, structure and control; gifts he believed he had given the city. And the city had rewarded him, never knowing his true identity or intentions.
His transport landed on atop of the processing plant which churned and heaved below him. Steam and smog bellowed noisily into refinery pipes and containment vacuums. Though the plant was sleek and modern, its processes were old and dirty, expelling the residues and filth into areas of the west side that he paid a lot of money to hide. Of course, those who lived there made their own uses for the by-products, and cottage industries had risen up around the site that took advantage of the unwanted.
He made his way swiftly inside, eventually entering a vast circular meeting room that hung with nervous people, eager to see what the visit was all about. Many were smartly dressed, but a few wore clothes tailored to factory floors more than board rooms. Almost forty people filled the room, silently waiting for Aiko to speak. He entered through the circular desks and stopped in the centre of the room, the lights illuminating from below giving him an almost angelic appearance.
“Thank you all for coming to this hastily arranged meeting. I am very pleased with how the plant has functioned recently due to certain demands made, and your overall contribution to Atone-industries. As you are aware, this is only the first phase in our outlined projections for the city and surrounding suburbs. Phase II will begin shortly, and as expressed previously, this will require a relocation to sites in facilities Het and Bet underneath the city. Many of you will be familiar with these sites, but those who are not; you are soon to be amazed by them.”
A few pocketed whispers began around the room, reassurance began to seep in and some smiled.
“The timeline has been accelerated due to your success here and I would like to thank you for your efforts. Each department will have a briefing following this meeting, and relocation AI’s will be on hand to transport and reconfigure all for the next stage. Those of you who have requested additional family cleansing and assessment, this has been approved by me and will also begin immediately.”
Applause and smiles now filled the room.
“I needn’t remind anyone here that this is a delicate situation and technically takes place outside of the realms of legality. As such, I will remind you all of your legal bonding to the NDA’s and contractual stipulations you have all signed.”
The applause faded, but the smiles remained. Many in the room had been waiting all their lives for this to happen.
“Wonderful. Then let me thank you again for your effort, and here’s to Phase II.”
Applause broke out again, and Aiko bowed respectfully before making his way out of the room. Those who remained quickly dissolved into chatter, and the room filled with the sound of hurried cheerful voices creeping up the walls like happy lizards.
Aiko made his way down a corridor followed by Stefan; he entered an office with a large glass window which looked out over the port. Stefan came to a stop one side of the desk while Aiko looked out over the sea.
“What is the timeline we are now looking at?” Aiko asked him calmly.
“I would say just under a week. If we are to process everyone and their families. The AI’s are in place, so we only need to do a system check.” Stefan replied, checking a hologram tablet in front of him.
“Good. And the system failure scenario, I have access to that now?” Aiko asked, his gaze locked on the horizon out at sea.
“Yes, your access codes are here.” Stefan said, sending something over to him remotely using the hologram. “The staff relocation….” He began.
“Should be of the highest importance, and secrecy. Building 70 is complete and is ready for the intake. The views are fantastic there, they’ll have a better vista than either you or I.” Aiko said. Stefan smiled and ticked something off a list.
“There are some things that I’m not quite sure of still….” He began, but Aiko cut in.
“Then you are not to know of it yet I would presume. Everything in time.” Aiko replied.
“But the source….” Stefan tried again, confidently. At this Aiko turned to face him, slipping out a small book from his inside pocket. He held it down in front of him like a precious hymn book.
“Is not your concern.” Aiko said. And with that, Stefan nodded and turned to depart, leaving Aiko alone in the room which began to glow a faint blue behind him.
Karen Winkoski never went by Dr. Winkoski. She didn’t like the airs and graces that came with the title. She wasn’t one to blend into any background either, she liked for her work to do the talking. She had studied synthetic biology for the best part of her career, finding it hard to tread the fine line of ethics and morality in a corporate capitalist system. She had gone off the radar in the past few years, taking her work away from the mainstream to focus on understating SIN and finding a reversal. She had established ‘The Order’ as part of her approach to undo the changes that had occurred in her lifetime, and how the corporate and class system had evolved around SIN; relegating many to its crippling societal discrimination.
Having come across resistance and unforeseen battles against agencies and individuals; her work was forced underground. This is where it may have slowly died if it wasn’t for a mystical discovery that was brought to her attention by way of a strange visitor. Unlocking parts of the secret had forwarded both her quest for a cure, and to move the benefits of this magic for all; beyond that of disease. A great equaliser.
Karen led them both around the room, showing them the sequencing and extraction machines and impressive hologram units, which broke through codes and displayed eerie glowing vignettes of things that Jess could not make sense of.
“The vault is really the heart of our operation. I’m not sure how much you know Jess, or how much you should know; but The Order is no longer working solely on reversal of SIN in afflicted individuals, but the elevation of all human cells. We’re looking at what SIN does to the body and moving things to the other end of the spectrum; creating cells and tissues resistance to cancer strains, diseases or immune disintegration.”
“Making everyone a superhero, right Bishop?” Levon said, nudging Karen in the side playfully.
“Kind of. While it’s true Jess that we have only selectively reversed certain people, this is not through any discriminatory process. We found that we can only use our reversal pathogen in certain gene types. The virulence is not stable on all cases.” Karen said.
Jess remained silent.
“I won’t go into the stages of success we’ve had over the years, or failures for that matter as I’m sure you can imagine what results we would’ve come across. It wasn’t a pretty process. But we have made huge advances in understanding SIN and its makeup and reversing certain types and halting the mutation.”
“But you have a cure, right?” Jess asked, watching Levon pick up a glowing test tube and shaking it, seeing the colours inside change.
“It’s not that simple I’m afraid.” She said, taking the test tube from Levon and putting it back in its holder.
“It’s not simple, at all but get to the magic part…. that’s the bit everyone is always interested in.” Levon said.
Karen had walked around to the other side of the large metal table. She looked at them both, placing her hands on the bench before her.
“You know of The Altered, you know what this world has offered us. It has brought about a way of slicing through the darkness in our science and has shone a light into that void. We call those within the order Saints, Bishops, Teachers and Priests, invoking a religious space and veil of mysticism. And in a way, it is. But the magic is ruled by its own decrees and laws. There are limitations to it and things we don’t understand. With the help of The Order, and the work we do here in the vault, we are marrying the two worlds together to understand the science behind the mutation for those suffering, and moving it to a space where we aren’t all just equal; but better than before. Our vow is to right a terrible wrong, not just for some; but for all. Our work is leading towards one great event to cure everyone.” She breathed out noisily, as if completing an affirmation.
She stared at both of them, letting the gravity of what she said hit them both. Karen knew Levon’s circumstance, and she knew too of the likes of Jess. Soldiers in a war fighting with only half of the picture. She was brave and an idealist but making moves with only part of the information.
“So, what can we do?” Jess asked, looking Karen squarely in the eyes.
“The first thing is to be baptised.” Karen replied.
Jess scoffed slightly, a look of satisfaction coming over her.
“I’ve already been baptised, for nearly six months now.” Jess replied, cockily. Karen looked over to Levon, he looked away smiling.
“You can read the incantations, and I imagine you can generate the mind projections. Right?” Karen asked her.
Jess took a moment, knowing now where this was heading.
“Yeah.” She said.
“Which is a good start, I bet it wasn’t easy as it can be painful when you first begin.” Karen took out a small book from her lab coat pocket, followed by a small vial; its contents glowing blue. “But you have yet to be baptised using anything from the Altered I would assume?”
Jess was quiet.
“Levon here is a mystery to us still, what he can do and how his body reacts with the magic is still beyond our understanding. But there are some of us who do react more with the powers and the magic this mystic world offers. We have found ways to enhance ourselves to it, and as a result; can aid our efforts towards our goal. Initial steps, baptism for example, shows a commitment and entry to this world that we must keep secret and safe for now. But it also has physical and practical changes to our bodies.” Karen said, shaking the little vial.
“I want to help; I want to change what this world has come to.” Jess said, watching the vial hypnotically.
“Then you’re in the right place.” Karen replied, smiling. “Are you ready?” She asked.
Jess nodded. She was knowledgeable about much of the Order, having been eager to enter and do her part for some time now. She had met Levon this way, the strange cleanser who knew more than her would ever tell. She longed to help and have a function.
She tipped her head forward and slowly removed both of her eyes.
The first time it hurt, obviously. Pain is a relative thing though, and Jess had always seen herself as a strong person with a high pain threshold. Procedures as they go these days, with internal computer systems into the body and detailed mind graphing, they usually make those operations devoid of pain. But the eyes, those hurt like hell. Severing of optical nerves were quick, but the input modules that were meshed around the socket; those ached as they were attached.
Jess had first used the magic from the Altered years ago, before the books and the written language were truly understood. She had come by a small sample of the green matter, acquired like many backdoor drug dealings, through a shady acquaintance. It had been poor quality, mixed and watered down, removing its potency. She was naïve then and knew little about how it was to be used. She was naïve, but desperate. Eager to change her family’s circumstance, and her own. It gave her nothing but a longing to know more, to understand all about the Altered and what came back from there.
Over the years she was able to source her own ‘companion’, a little book of Altered magic to help use the matter. Spells was a silly word, but it was what they were; incantations, yet ones that worked at a cellular and genetic level. It is what many needed now in this inequitable societal system. Able to shift makeups and change circumstances.
Temporarily. As was the problem for Jess. Her body makeup was not aligned to accommodate the Altered states. The magic, the matter; never stuck for her. As was true for many others. Their level of incorporation was never sustained. It took cleansers like Levon to manipulate the matter and reconstitute it with their own to make something that could be transferred to those needing it. To change them into ‘accepted’ humans once more.
Jess persevered with her knowledge and training in the mystical arts however, doing what she could to help. Seeking out those to help her and change her circumstance. Coming across the likes of Levon, and now Karen, The Bishop.
She put her eyeballs into a small metal cylinder that she removed from her pocket, having taken a seat next to the desk; and tilted her head back a little. Karen moved closer, taking the stopper from the small vial and tipping the contents into each of her eye sockets. The liquid pooled abnormally, as if floating inside her skull before turning to a vapour in an instant and clinging to the insides of her sockets.
“It takes a few minutes, relax if you can.” Karen said. Jess laughed slightly.
“Yeah right.” She said. Levon stood watching the colours now emitting from her.
“This will open the gateway to the bridge to the Altered. You may have seen this before, but now you’ll be able to move through the haze too, beyond the marker point.” Karen added.
Levon knew what she meant, with his trips to the Altered he was able to move above the bridge, flying above with his own abilities that took him seamlessly into the other world. It was as if he was a resident of the Altered, able to move back and forth with ease. Others could be tourists, temporally view and touch the world; but their travels there were laboured and hazardous. Karen was setting Jess up now to be able to view and touch this world; and with the right incantations, would be able to eventually transfer parts of herself through. The bridge was always the challenge for everyone. It took time. But it was needed if you were to truly change.
After a few moments, Karen indicated that Jess could put her eyes back in, which she did. She opened them up and blinked a few times.
“How does that feel?” Karen asked, genuine concern coating her words.
“Fine thanks, it tingles a little.” Jess replied.
“Just the matter taking hold. I’ll start the incantation and it will unlock the gateway. With that, Karen took her small book and found the page she was looking for. She began to read aloud some strange words, words both Levon and Jess had heard before, but in different states. The lights in the room began to dim and a luminous glow appeared beneath the eyes Jess had recently placed back. Karen took her finger and tabbed at the top of the vial which had contained the liquid, drawing a small symbol on Jess’s hand. Levon’s own symbols began to glow, and Jess suddenly pushed back in the chair.
“Ahh.” Was all that Jess could exclaim. She was thrown out of the room there under the church and transported through a mist to the beginning of the Altered. She could hear Karen’s words ringing out, but they sounded tinny, as if coming from inside a shell. She extended her arm, and the mist moved apart like a cloud. The air hung with little sparks of blue light, like electricity in vapour. As the mist moved, she could see before her a huge stone circle, and beyond a stone bridge leading off into the unknown. It reminded her of Japanese torii entranceways to shrines, the mystical and tantalising.
She had only seen glimpses before, unable to move in the static. Now she could walk and move around. She moved towards the stone gateway, her heart beating to a hurried rhythm. As she approached, she could see a smaller stone by the entrance. It was covered in the language she had tried desperately to learn over the years. Here the text melted, forming words now that she could understand and comprehend.
As she stood there, she became aware of an encroaching shadow off in the distance behind her. Like a new weather front coming in. It seemed ominous and did not feel like it belonged here in this space. Everything she had ever known of the Altered and its magic had always brought her warmth and comfort, this felt foreign and threatening to her. She turned away, towards the bridge now through the gateway. She tried to move her feet, but it was then she felt a pulling, a tugging coming from inside her skull. It was then that she knew she was heading back, back to the crypt under the church. Like stepping out of a hot bath she returned back to the chair, Karen and Levon before her.
“How far did you get?” Levon asked her. She looked up excitedly.
“To the gateway, I could read the marker.”
“That’s good, the baptism seems to be doing its wonder.” Karen added. “Each time you’ll get further.” Jess looked concerned then.
“But it felt strange, there was a shadowy wall encroaching in on me. “Jess said, rubbing her eyes. “I’ve not known anything like that before.”
Karen and Levon looked at each other.
“Do you know what it is?” Jess asked, seeing their faces.
“Yep. And it comes back to your friend Mr Tsutsumi?” Levon said, walking over to a wall and tapping the blueprints that were pinned to the board.
Aiko Tsutsumi was not an evil man, he himself didn’t even class himself as particularly mean. He was direct and calculated, practical and realistic. He knew how people perceived him though, and sometimes relished those times where people were intimidated by him. His anger and contempt over the years had been funnelled into a vindication that best suited himself. Living well is the best revenge after all. And Aiko lived very well. His empire that sprawled throughout the region and touched nearly everyone’s life. Being rich was part of that, but he also had control. He had felt a turning though through his stages of vengeance. He let go to his notion of merely punishing those who had done him wrong but moved his sights to a much larger spectrum.
He had been brought up in poverty and anguish, poisoned by the SIN which had run throughout his structure. This he hid from the world and he grew up lying and doing what he could to better his circumstance. Many could see this as admirable. But along the way the underdog turned into a more dangerous beast. Aiko found a way, much like those in The Order, that he was able to rid himself of the SIN by stepping into the Altered. His search for change had led him down a darker more maligned root to the magic, and though incompatible at first, he had made his own sacrifices to get what he wanted and created his own demons.
He had harnessed aspects of the magic which he brought out of the Altered and fuelled his technology and systematic growth of Atone-industries. He kept these secrets hidden well, for few knew of the power or the existence of the Altered. He knew of The Order and what they were trying to achieve, and his mission now was to accomplish his plans first.
And those plans did not allow a second-place result.
Scanning through the schematics of his plan labelled ‘EDEN’, Aiko familiarised himself with the logistics of the upcoming second phase. He knew there would be a fallout from this project, media relations played an important role in all his endeavours. But with any systematic change, there are always casualties. Aiko had developed a device which, much like Levon’s little bag of cleansing, would cleanse a huge population at the same time. The size of a city for example. He had manufactured a machine which increased the power and range of the magic and could distribute it across the city. The Order were indeed trying to do the same thing, but for Aiko; his objectives were different.
The Order planned to re-balance the scales, lifting everyone with SIN to an improved genetic place where all were equal and positively mutated to an evolved state of being. Aiko was more selective in his view of change. He had worked hard to rid himself of the taint of SIN, disgusted by both those who had kept him down, and equally those around him who had failed to do anything about their circumstance. He saw them as weak, lazy and deserving of their state. He planned to speed up the natural selection of evolution. His device, his Pandora’s Box, released an adjusted version of the magic, one which he had modified to purposely only enhance and select a middle range of people.
Those with SIN who were too weak, or genetically feeble would of course be killed but so too were those in the age group of himself who had made his existence painful in his youth. A generation of bastards he could not forgive. Those, even without SIN too would be killed, leading to a superior group equally measured in abilities and evolved state.
Aiko now was too far removed of empathy to care for those who would not survive his plan. Those who had hurt him would get their comeuppance, and those too weak to try would be removed for the greater good. This second phase would begin shortly, activated from the West Side to heavily impact all of those that he deduced needed to change.
Naturally Aiko would be safe. He sat back now in his chair, happy and content that things were coming together. He had made arrangements of course; he wasn’t completely devoid of emotion to let his family perish either. He loathed them of course, but he had yet to turn that corner into cartoon villainy, and still retained that sense of connection, and on some level love, for them.
He pushed a button on his desk and the floating head of Stefan appeared before him, the hologram blurred with static.
“I have to leave for a day or so, I won’t be able to be contacted. Is everything in order?” Aiko asked. Stefan nodded agreeably.
“Yes sir, all is fine and on course as you’ve initiated. You’ve had some requests from the elected states to conference in tomorrow though, so I will have to re-arrange that.” Stefan replied.
“They are always asking for things.” Aiko replied.
“It seems they have concerns over the recent relocation of staff into the elevated sectors of the city.” Stefan said.
“I’d be surprised if they hadn’t. Remind them of the proposal I outlined to them previously and convey my apologies for missing the conference. I will get back to them when I can.” Aiko said, knowing he never would.
“Is there anything else you need from me today?” Stefan asked. Aiko paused a moment, looking at the disembodied head before him.
“Not now no.” Aiko said, leaving a small silence before adding: “But if you know anyone in the west side, or that way inclined, you may wish to tell them to get out before tomorrow.” Aiko drew his hand across a sensor and Stefan’s head disappeared, leaving him alone again in the darkening room, as the sun was beginning to set over the city.
Levon remembered his first time over, it was not something he could easily forget. Not only had it changed the course of his life, but it had saved him from a circumstance which would’ve consumed him. He had stumbled down the rabbit hole, not out of curiosity or on any noble quest for change; but in running away. Fleeing from an unending grief, a void which was swallowing his life.
Levon had come to understand his place in the world. Growing up, placed on the bottom rung, abused just by what was housed in his genetics and what stained his face. His family, his friends, all suffered the same; it was the system that was rotten; but it was the system that was in place. Then someone came into his world that changed it all, turned the dark to light and the bitter to sweet. Made him move, question, live and love. But it was not a happy ending, for it was never the end for them, only one of them. Robbed so quickly out of the material realm. The science that bubbled under their skin had more ways to poison than just SIN. Things that science should have had a hold over by now, it played havoc on a body so pure.
So, he ran, he escaped all he could see or touch, anything that would remind him of them and the gaping hole of their absence. In his flight he stumbled down the path that led him to the door of the Teacher. Fate usually puts us where we need to be, and for Levon; that was in the hands of the one who held a pass to the land that could give him a gift. A gift he would come to battle with himself, but at first was one which took the pain away. Levon was shown the way over to the Altered, his teacher saw something in him that was different. Maybe a broken heart allows more light in to fuse the bits together. But for Levon it seemed, he was able to maneuver through the Altered as if he was a part of it. His teacher, taking on the parent figure he needed, guided him along that path.
His SIN was erased, his body seeming to evolve around a state that few had seen. He could manipulate and conjure the magic, it bent to his whims and flourished in his cells. Stepping over for him was easy, but Levon remembered the first time. The great revelation of light, like stepping out of a darkened room into the sun. It burnt, it hurt. Like a radiation scorching away his history.
He knew what Jess could see when she had gone over, he knew at all times who was present in the Altered. He felt it within him like a tickling thread. He had known for some time a gathering shadow, closing in on the world like a coming storm.
“I thought you didn’t know anything.” Jess said to Levon, confused.
“We know, but we can’t go around telling everyone. There are levels of trust in this thing. Take a look around, it’s not amateur hour.” Levon said, casting his hand around the room. Jess looked around but was hurt also.
“I know that, but you made it seem like you didn’t.” She said.
“I’m sorry for that, forgive the tiny deception.” Levon said with a grin. “But there is a plan…”
“One which we could use help with.” Karen added, seeing how Jess was a little upset.
“But wait, first tell me what you know. What’s the darkness there? What is really happening?” She asked.
Levon and Karen looked at each other before Karen went on.
“As you know, the Altered is a realm that has a different makeup to our own world. Magic if you like, though some of our science is beginning to understand it. We can enter the world through certain rituals, or incantations. Levon and others can get there by different means, but that’s another tale. In the Altered there is the ability to reverse SIN, as you’re aware. We’re working on something which will rapidly expunge SIN in all individuals in our own world, using a combination of matter and a reciting of a series of incantations. We have an essence, one we’ve come to call Holy Water, which has the ability to reverse SIN in subjects and evolve their genetics beyond to what we have at the moment.” Karen said.
“So, you have a tonic that cures the ailing and makes everyone equal. Great, why aren’t we using it? Why aren’t we giving it out to people? Levon is still going around with his magic bag of tricks, what are we waiting for?” Jess said, more agitated now, walking around flaying her arms about.
“Jess hear us out. It’s not that straightforward.” Levon said.
“Levon is right, for a change Jess. It’s not so simple.” Karen added. Her disposition seemed to imbued calm and trust, she was The Bishop after all. This seemed to calm her a little.
“So….” Jess said.
“What we have come to find is that the Holy Water does help most of those who suffer with SIN, but not everyone…. yet. And we’ve found that it actually has a negative effect on the Others. Those without it.” She said.
“What, so they turn back?” Jess asked?
“No, I’m afraid not. It kills off those cells in those without it. So, we cannot release it on a mass scale as it will kill thousands.” She was keen to see how Jess would react to this. Jess hung her head.
“I see the problem then. No one should be suffering. But what is the darkness in the Altered?” She said, moving on.
“Well, that is something we do know something about, and I think we can stop it too.” Levon said, looking to Karen for some approval. She nodded her head. “Your friend Aiko…”
Jess sighed and shook her head. Levon continued.
“Your friend there seems to have access to the Altered also. He’s been robbing it for his own needs for years now. As you’re aware it is a very mercurial place, reactive to what goes in and out and what takes place there. Aiko has been pillaging it without any of the offerings, without any of the respect we in the order give it. He is like a toxin that leaches into the world and pollutes it. The darkening is his presence, ever encroaching and snuffing out the light there. It’s beginning to erase and alter the Altered…if you get my meaning.” Levon said.
“So, it’s another thing we have to deal with.” Jess sighed.
“Yes, but now we have an increased timeframe.” Karen added.
“Why?” Jess asked.
“Because Aiko is about to unleash something on the city in the next few days which will change everything forever.” Levon said, his voice echoing off the stone walls slightly.
“Fuck.” Jess said. Karen nodded.
“And what he doesn’t know is that it will not go how he expects. He cannot control the magic or the essence of the Altered in the ways he thinks he can. And it won’t just mean the end for those with SIN, but for everyone.”
“So double fuck.” Levon added.
“Indeed.” Karen replied, making her way over to a small cabinet in the corner of the room. “But like you say Levon…. there is a plan.”
The city sprawled out across the bay which curved round like a crab. The huge gleaming skyscrapers rose high, dotted across the expanse looking like giant teeth from out to sea. The city was indebted to the ocean, growing out of its natural harbour and becoming a gateway to this part of the country. In recent years the city had begun to creep out ever further into the bay, huge complexes which dug down deep into the shaky sandy ground under the waves.
Atone industries was no different, with facilities on the west side and also underneath the central CBD; leaving their development centres to be on the coastline, a hybrid of industry and futuristic posturing with their sleek designs and innovative constructions. For Aiko, size was everything, and his properties were known to be the tallest points in the city. He would boast some of the best views of the ocean from atop his giant towers, the looming monoliths sporting his name for all to see.
It was these towering structures that Aiko hoped would be the key to his planned ‘modification’ for the city. The height and change in pressure allowed the magical elements to react better in the thinner atmosphere. This gave him the opportunity to hide in plain sight, stationing his machines at the summit of these towers that lay in the heart of the city.
The Order had known what Aiko was planning for some time. That change in the Altered had begun some time ago, the fabric shifting and fraying the further along he seemed to be going. They also knew from their sources inside Atone industries and the hidden world of magic that something was being prepared. In many ways it was a battle of good versus evil, but at the root of the war; they shared the same goal. They both wanted to use the magic and essence of the Altered as a great equaliser, to eradicate the level of us and them from society. Too long had there been a great discrepancy between those with and without SIN.
With the help of their sources, The Order had been able to monitor Aiko’s plans for the city. His ‘alteration’ machines had been developed to be placed at the top of two towers, for maximum coverage. With his accumulated maligned source of essence, he planned to release this over the city where it would converge with the particles in the air and be drawn into each person’s cells. Those below who lived in the city. No one was safe as these particle attractions had been manipulated to be drawn to human tissue. It did not discriminate. Upon release, with the correct incantation, which would be broadcast throughout the cities C&M (Chipped and marker) system, which all citizens by law were made to have; the essence would begin its evolutional thrust.
What Aiko failed to know, was that the magic of the essence would not follow his planned selection process. The Order had learned that on the levels in use for the whole city, they would change the mutation of essence, as the incantation they knew he planned to use had a sub-verse within the text. In simple terms, it operated on a ‘one for all’ method, in that, it would power the essence to the overall rate of change. Aiko wanted to select a middle range of survivors, an age group outside himself that he believed were the best and fitting for his new utopia. His plans would not follow this rule and would override to modify everyone at the same rate. Like Pandora, what he would release could not be controlled.
Fortunately, The Order had been working on their own variant form of essence. They had developed something which worked in-tune with the Altered, on the same principles that Aiko had in mind. The difference being that theirs had to work from the Altered, through a conduit that could control and defuse the rate of power being unleashed.
Jess looked at Levon as Karen finished talking. She cocked her head to the side.
“So, you are our saviour then I’m guessing Mr Messiah?” Jess said, understanding now what was planned. Levon grinned and extended his hand, king like; jokingly suggesting she kiss it.
“I prefer the term superhero.” Levon replied, grinning.
“Come on, be serious both of you. This is important, and we have no time to lose. Aiko has already re-located his staff to his Het and Bet facilities under the city. That means they have entered the final phase.” Karen said. She handed Jess a small glass bottle in the shape of a cross that she had taken from the cabinet.
“How long do you think?” Jess asked.
“The intelligence suggest tomorrow night is when he plans to turn on the machines.” Levon said.
“Wow. Then, we need to get moving. What’s this for?” Jess asked, holding the bottle.
“This is a sample of what Aiko has developed, the maligned essence. You’ll need this to open up the Pandora machines, their elemental readers will only operate if its sequence is detected.” Karen said.
“Will one be enough?” Jess asked.
“I’ve got the other.” Levon said, shaking a little bottle also.
“So how are you going to be in the Altered also?” Jess asked, not quite clear on the plan.
“You will be meeting someone who will help you, Levon will take you there. All will be explained. I will handle things from here, this place is more than just a church or science lab you know.” Karen said.
“Okay, so let’s go.” Jess said, making her way back towards the door they came through.
“There’s a quicker way, follow me.” Levon said, making his way around the corner of the room where a huge glass box stood, touching the roof of the tomb. Jess followed him and watched as he scanned his arm across a reader by the glass. It changed colour to green and the stones behind it moved backwards. Beneath the floor a small hover cart moved upwards until it was docked in place. The glass slid down; the cart hovered there at knee height.
“Jump in.” Levon said.
“Transport too?” Jess said, hopping into one of the seats.
“Of course, the popemobile silly.” Levon replied, jumping in next to her. He swiped the dashboard and the glass returned to the room and they were lowered down onto magnetic tracks. A casing came up over their heads, making it indeed look like the popemobile from days of old.
“Hold tight.” Levon said as they were suddenly propelled off into the tunnel before them.
Jess watched as the blur of the tunnel rushed by. Dark earthy stones like the walls of the church snaked away before and after them as they sped deep under the city. The tunnel was lit by the same blue lights that she had come to recognise both the Order and the Altered with.
It took nearly no time for them to reach their destination, the automatic controls of their little mobile clinking in and slowing them to a stop beneath a square hatch above them. The lifted upwards, the hatch opening to allow them inside like a strange spaceship docking bay. She looked at Levon who, as always, expressed little surprise to his surroundings. This must all be old news to him she thought.
They rose up into a space which was very much removed from the old stone walled confines of the crypt. The room was open and airy, with high ceilings and huge windows which reached up beyond the ceiling line. The walls were dusted in a smooth red copper, and plants and foliage hung and crept from all manner of nooks and crannies. It smelt lush, fragrant as if they had entered a small snatched part of the jungle somewhere.
“Are we at the Zoo?” Jess asked, stepping out of the mobile and onto a glass floor. A few steps away from her she could see water flowing beneath, eventually cascading out into a small waterfall towards the edge of the room.
“A personal zoo of sorts, yeah. My teacher likes animals and living things.” Levon said.
“And they got stuck with you, shame.” Jess joked.
“It’s an appreciation for life, the thing that is most important I suppose.” Levon said, clearly understanding it better than he made out.
They stood there momentarily, a few parrots rustling above their heads and fluttering down to a lower roost in a palm across the room. The huge Bali styled doors opened on the far side, dispelling the mist that was gathering at the bottom of the door. A little figure stood there for a moment, silhouetted in the light that equally poured in from the other room.
“It seems I was the one in need of help, not you Levon.” The little voice said, fading away quickly under the sounds of the waterfall which sploshed the water down the artificial glass rocks.
“This is the teacher.” Levon said to Jess, casting his hand in the direction of the small woman who had begun to make her way across the room now. She was tiny, barely five foot. She moved gracefully though, almost floating across the glass floor towards them. Her silken clothes and coiffed hair gave Jess a regal impression and contradicted both her own and Levon’s rough and ready outwear.
She came over to them and outstretched her hand, offering it to Jess.
“Nice to meet you Jess, my name is Nina.” The woman said. Jess shook her hand which felt oddly soft, almost too velvety as if she was a collection of the vapour she had just walked through.
“Good to meet you.” Jess replied, still taking both the woman and the room in.
“Levon here likes to make out he’s never phased by anything, but I do believe that he is very put out sharing this all with you.” Nina said, eyeing Levon wickedly.
“Uh, I wouldn’t say put out.” Levon replied, but Nina went on.
“It’s a very personal relationship to have with a teacher, and this very space here is a sanctum for us. Not many have passed up through the floor there that you just have. And never with company.” Nina added. She stood there now with her arms tucked away in her long silks. Jess was unsure if she was being chastised, welcomed or cautioned. Nina’s expression did not lend to any interpretation, her features stood like a carved statue, trapped in beauty.
“I, uhhh.” Jess began but Nina smiled, sensing her nervousness.
“Please, do not feel alarmed. All this is pretty intense I imagine. You are safe, and most welcome; indeed, I think you are exactly what we need right now.” Nina said, resting a light touch on Jess’s shoulder tenderly.
Jess was relieved and smiled in reply.
“Looks like you’ve added some more parrots since I was here last.” Levon said, motioning towards two parakeets which were chirping noisily above them. Nina looked above, smiling still.
“The more the merrier I find.” Nina said, extending her arm out. The two birds suddenly flew down and rested on her outstretched arm, their noisy chirping now changed to a sweet birdsong.
“Amazing.” Jess said, watching the little birds.
“They are a delight. But come, you must need refreshing and a good sit down I imagine.” Nina said, turning towards the door she had entered through. She began to walk away and Levon and Jess followed, their shoes echoing over the glass floor.
“Just mind your step.” Nina said, motioning to a large dollop of bird crap on the shiny glass floor. “A delight, but a messy one.” She added.
The birds then took off as they made their way into the other room, leaving the humid nature of the tiny rainforest behind and entering what Jess could only call a library. The likes of which she had never seen before in her life.
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 SIN. They had grown accustomed to the hierarchy, where those smartly dressed betters were financially, intelligently and genetically superior. SIN 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 how they are. 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, scraping 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 led 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 there 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 narcissistic supervillain 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 shelves. 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 too. 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.
“Can’t HE help with any of this?” Levon asked, somewhat spitefully. Nina looked at him, sympathetically and knowing who he meant.
“We can’t locate him. You better than anyone know how hard it is to pin him down.” She replied.
“Hmmph. Well, best not to rely on him then, I know I no longer do.” Levon said, folding his arms.
“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 not asking who they referred to.
“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 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 convenience, surely.” Levon said.
Nina shook her head.
“As dangerous and deranged as Aiko is, and as extensive as our own enterprise is also, we don’t have his resources or indeed technology. We’ve tried with our own trials and transmutation machines. They just don’t cut it.” 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 timeframe. 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 irreparable, 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.
The Altered, the other realm. A place only known by those who had ever been there. It is easy to imagine another fantasy world, one which moves on an axis of magic and mystery. Yet it is a place that defies true understanding. Most technology fails to operate there; simple mechanical devices or computers are redundant in the atmosphere that swells and whispers spirits. This adds to the mystification and fascination of the place, throwing up questions of origins and beginnings as much as endings. Did we crawl out of this land on our bellies? Did we rid ourselves of the magic and lore like flicking away the fins and gills of our ancestors?
The magic has continued though; transported through doorways and openings, brought back by the brave and knowledgeable who understood and hoped to help the world with it. Mystic passages and symbols scrawled out by something that echoes in our own history. It has its own essence, its own living and breathing being that moves to the thoughts and the whims of those in possession. Magic, though dangerous and dazzling, can truly reflect those who wield it. For good or ill. The magic from the altered is a mirror and an enhancer of the one who handles it. The incantations, the essence from the physical place can be used in such wondrous ways. Which is how the Order have been handling it. Respectfully. Treating it as a living entity that, like anything loved, is handled with care.
Aiko stood now in the Altered, himself covered in a black suit as if travelling through space. He wore a helmet which was transparent, giving him a 360-degree view of everything around him. That everything now though was clogged in a thick black fog which was beginning to swirl and descend upon him, blotting him out entirely. Something kept the fog at a distance however, a little green flame in his hand that he held before him like an offering. The little fire was a concoction, a breathing into being of the magic that hung in particles all around him.
He was not stupid; he knew the construct of this place and how delicate the system could be. He knew how it reacted and contracted to other people’s presence. The Order. He had seen them here many times. Slithers of white and blue light that would transverse the plains; not so much as meddling but going by their own designs. Aiko had once thought they could work together, their plans not so different. He had come there once too as a student, eager to learn, eager to overcome this place which had at first inspired and frightened him. But as he grew, both here and back home, his mind and resolve became hardened and addled. His thoughts of others evaporated, and his intent became clearer.
There was much power here, one he could harness. Not just to rid the city of those who he wished to teach a lesson to, his great flood so to speak. But to capture the essence and magic of this place, to bridge it over to the other world. He would then be able to control more than he could ever imagine.
The fly in the ointment however was the organic nature of this place, this Altered where each action had a seismic reaction. His pillaging and raping of this place had resulted in this darkness, this fog which was withering and unstructering all. He could see it, he knew what was occurring. He wondered if the damage could be undone. He knew the Order were trying to do just that, but each time he came here he seemed to make it worse. He had delved into the books, the lore and the mysticism and to him it spoke in riddles. There was something he didn’t quite understand.
He came now to a place, the one he had been fearful to go to if he were honest with himself. Before him giant metal gates loomed up into the sky. To say it was forbidden to go there was not a true reflection of what the writings said. What they actually told of was a place in the Altered where those with heavy hearts feared to go. Where the gates were closed to hearts and minds that could never be opened. There was always danger in the altered, missteps and mistakes had taken people. Snatched them into a trapped existence tangibly in view but forever lost.
The gates loomed high before him, the blackness covering much of it now above out of sight. A quiet heavy sound of silence was slowly being punctured by a tap-tap, which was beginning to build somewhere off behind the gates. His little green flame flickered, reducing slightly and threatening to go out. A blue light moved beyond the gates. A flash and flicker, the tap became more prominent.
“Who is there?” Aiko demanded, his little green flame growing with his command.
Only silence returned.
He looked above him through his helmet, through the suit that protected him now from the fog that he had found corroded flesh. The fog above the gates was dispersing, blanketing off to the sides as if cleared by a giant hand.
“You cannot enter Aiko, you know this.” A voice came from beyond.
“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.” Aiko replied, defiantly.
“This is nothing your heart isn’t telling you also.” The voice said, seeming to creep about him now like its own miasma of eeriness.
“Be that as it may, I will be entering.” Aiko said. His plan rested on what was beyond the gates, his own bridge to the world below.
“If you do that, there will be no world to bridge to.” The voice came back, almost mockingly. Aiko was not surprised; he knew the nature of the Altered, how it revealed things you may never speak. But it had annoyed him, nonetheless.
“That is a chance I’m willing to take. If you take me for a fool, then it is your mistake.” Aiko said, taking out his little book that he always kept on him.
“I do not think you a fool Ai, I know you too well.” The voice said. This did surprise him. No one called him Ai anymore, few even used his first name so casually. Ai was his childhood name.
“Stop it.” Aiko said, yet showing no signs of surprise. He found the page he was looking for and tapped the symbols on it. His own little green fire died suddenly, but before the darkness descended, he muttered an incantation and beneath his feet little green particles began to emerge from the ground. On his left arm he swivelled a dial on his suit and the particles flew towards it like a magnet. They bubbled in place, building to a sphere in a split second before exploding upwards into the darkness above and around him.
The flecks of green light seemed to cling to the darkness, haltering its movement.
“You’re like the little child who dipped his dirty hand in honey to have a taste Ai.” The voice came again, followed by a flash of blue beyond the gates momentarily.
“I warned you.” Aiko said, now angry. He turned the dial on his arm which seemed to energise the particles, he pushed forward with his hand and the darkness contracted around him, beginning to move forward at his command towards the gates. As they touched them, they began to steam the metal, hissing the bars like a million serpents escaping a nest.
“I still think you can be saved Aiko; you just keep choosing the hard way.” The voice came, this time from behind him. Aiko turned quickly but the light blinded. A Blue and white flash engulfed him; swallowing everything, including the darkness. He fell to the floor in a daze as the voice dissipated everywhere, an incantation he had never heard melted everything away.
It was a long time before Aiko awoke. He lay there in his custom-made suit as the blue light washed everything it touched, bringing a gleam to the gates and the Altered he found himself in. When he did wake, he could still see the darkness fogging his vision. This was not because it had returned, but because it now resided inside him; forever staining what he saw.
Jess had a story like many others, a cataloguing of moments in her youth that pushed her to the side of rebellion. She had watched for years how those with and without SIN were treated differently. How the great gap between the two seemed to be widening. It was assumed that Jess was a sufferer herself, tainted by the genetic mutation that kept some in the lower bowels of society.
But she was not.
Jess had always had a distaste for discrimination. Her very soul had rejected the nonsense and justification of how and why society behaved as it did now. She felt everyone was equal, despite of where you came from, what you were or how your cells formed and grew. She had been called an idealist with much of her radical thoughts put down to her youth. But it was her youth that bred the rebellion within also, the mutinous feelings she had for how she was told to live. She had been placed in a circumstance because of her family, reduced down the social levels because of a prominence in the others she was related to.
When she discovered there was another way, and others who felt the same as she; Jess poured her effort into undoing the pain that the past had normalised. She craved to know more of the Altered and the magic, to do her part in righting the wrong. Her path had crossed Levon’s, a ghost like being in the revolution. His skills and gifts were well known, but also his allusiveness and reluctance to fully engage in the fight. Now Jess knew a little better the part he played. The veil had been lifted on The Order and she had gotten what she had wanted, a true part to play in the war against the unjust.
Aiko had long ago become a target for her rage and contempt. She knew all about his upbringing of course, she had done her research well. She knew the secrets he kept and the hypocritical state of his youth. He may be smartly dressed on the outside, but inside he had been just as ‘unclean’ as the many he and his fellow appraisers shamed and kept persecuted.
All her efforts it seemed had come to this, to this tipping point where finally she had a real shot at correcting.
“Jess, are you in?” Nina asked her, tapping her knee slightly as if to rouse her.
“What, oh yes…of course.” Jess replied, her mind turning over the plan that had been hatched.
“Do you have your companions?” Nina asked, holding her own little book before them.
“Always.” Levon said, producing his own.
“Yep.” Jess said, reaching inside her jacket and taking out her little black book.
“Good, then we have no time to waste. Levon…” Nina started, but was interrupted by a murmuring sound.
“Answer.” Nina said, turning to face a floating hologram behind her. The Gustave Doré rendering suddenly transformed into the giant head of Dr. Winkoski whom they’d been with not long before.
“Karen, what’s up?” Nina said, she was calm and polite. Karen seemed on edge.
“Ah, good. You are all there. There has been a development.” She said. In the background the lab they had been in earlier was a bustle of activity.
“What’s happened?” Nina asked.
“It’s Aiko, we found him in the altered. He was trying to get through the gates of Asher.” Karen said.
“Found as in apprehended, or found the remains of him?” Nina queried.
“We found him, but he escaped back into the material realm. When he tried to get through the gates, he was stopped. The exchange seems to have banished the darkness too, for it no longer swirls around the Altered. Our members are reporting it is not showing anywhere.” Karen said.
Nina was quiet for a bit, thinking over what she had heard. She looked to the giant globe that was in the centre of the room and noticed the blackness had gone.
“Was it HE who stopped him?” Nina asked, her voice almost a whisper now.
“Who else.” Karen replied, before continuing. “We know Aiko still has his companion, and we must assume he was able to return on his own. Our disturbance trackers show entry and departure points that match his movements. We are waiting for word to come from his Atone industries to confirm if they are still on course.”
“We must assume, like you said, he returned. He will follow his plan; he believes in it too much. But we need it confirmed before we act.” Nina said.
“Agreed. We’re trying to get this information now, but I would say we must proceed with our time-frame if we are to stop him.” Karen added.
“And what of his holiness?” Nina asked.
Karen looked away momentarily at this, as if uncomfortable slightly.
“We’ve yet to contact him.” She said, slightly embarrassed.
“Not too surprising. I’m sure he’ll appear just at the right moment, he usually does.” Nina said, looking across to Levon.
“Well, we’ll update you when we know more. I’ll continue to organise the final stages from our side and the transferring of our reversal pathogen. Awaiting confirmation of its success from you still.” Karen said.
“Right, and we are about to start the test so it will be with you shortly.” Nina said to Karen.
“Speak soon.” Karen said and logged off.
“He’s been busy.” Levon said to Nina as the hologram changed back to the Dore prints which spun and moved in classic beauty.
“The Pope has his reasons, I’m sure he’ll appear soon.” Nina said.
“Well, he was always an absent father in my life, so I’m not surprised he’s doing the same thing to others.” Levon said, his face showing annoyance.
“Your father is the Pope?” Jess asked, this day seeming to offer her a new surprise after the next.
“Yep. And for all his goodness, he never sticks around long enough to be of any real benefit.” Levon snapped.
“He has his calling; he is doing what he knows is right for the order and for all of us.” Nina interjected.
Levon sat there, thinking on this.
“Maybe, but he’s never there when I need him.” Levon replied.
“I’m sorry for that, but if the world is better for his actions, then you have to deal with your own issues and selfishness. There is more at stake right now.” Nina offered in her quiet calming fashion. This seemed to do the trick as Levon seemed to shrug off his annoyance as he moved on the chair, perhaps seeing the bigger picture.
“So, what do we do first?” Jess asked, trying to get into action.
“We need to test the reversal pathogen. We can only stop Aiko otherwise, if we don’t know how it will work.” Nina said.
“But I thought there wasn’t enough time to check its effectiveness.” Jess asked.
“There is a way. There is a place between the Altered and the material realm. A purgatory if you will. It seems to react intensely with anything from the Altered, but also stabilises things from the world below. We believe if we test the pathogen there on a group, we can gauge the potency of the agent and its success.” Nina said.
“So, we need some volunteers?” Levon said.
“Some brave ones I’d say. That is quite a risk.” Jess said.
“All or nothing at this stage. Can you gather some people who suffer with SIN to go with you to this place and test it?” Nina asked Jess. Jess looked away, taking in the vast room and all the words that must be contained in the books; the immensity of it all. How many of those books contained stories of hope, of overcoming. She turned to face both Levon and Nina.
“I think I know just the people.” Jess replied.
They slipped down one of the many laneways that littered the city. These were trade routes, and backstreet paths; areas where they were not to be bothered by the ‘others’ who had no reason to go there. The lanes were dank and small, as if the buildings were purposely pushing to squash them out. Graffiti was smeared here and there, deriding the social order with a hollow call to arms. But these were few and far between, the great machine of the privileged cracked down harshly on such blatant critique of the order. Jess spotted one of the cleaning robots now, slithering down the side of the huge building like a mechanical spider, erasing the grime and the voices of the dissident.
Levon picked up a large bottle that sat idly next to a huge bin and launched it up into the air towards the robot. It impacted with a smash and the machine tumbled down, caught up in its own wire and support. Jess looked at him.
“We’ve got bigger fish remember.” Jess said, looking around to see if anyone had been startled by the commotion.
“I know, but those things really irritate me.” Levon replied, looking around for another object to launch up at the stranded thing.
“Here, let’s get inside quickly.” Jess said, eager to get away from the robot, which would, before long, give out a distress.
She pulled open a door that, on the surface, was disguised between two brick works which converged. They both slipped inside where it was dark, Jess pulling the door quickly shut behind her.
“Come on Levon, get it together. This is important now.” She said sternly, looking for a switch. Levon found it before her and turned it on with much satisfaction.
“I know, I understand alright. So, what is this place?” He asked looking around a deserted stairwell. Jess looked at him, wondering how long it had been since his own departure from this world.
“I think you know what this place is, you go to them regularly in your cleansings.” She said, trying not to be too annoyed with him.
“Oh, so just another ghetto then.” Levon said, casually.
Jess turned and slapped his face.
“Watch it.” She said, angrily. Levon looked stunned.
“Sorry, I…” He started, but she interrupted.
“We all know of your chequered past, and how you can’t seem to deal with your situation or gift. But there’s many who would do anything to be able to do what you can Levon. Don’t turn into a prick like the ‘Others’, these are people too.” She said, her eyes wide in alarm.
Levon looked at her and shuffled his feet a little. He sighed.
“Look, I don’t mean any disrespect. I just get uncomfortable in these places when they become so grateful. It angers me they need to be so thankful to something they shouldn’t.” He said.
“I get it, I know. But they are, and this is how it is for them. So, suck it up, and be more respectful. This is my family this time anyway.” Jess said and started towards the stairs which descended into a dark stairwell.
“Oh.” Levon said and began to follow. “I am sorry you know.” He added.
“Good, then let’s get on with things. Come on.” She said and upped her pace down the stairs.
The lights in the stairwell sprung to life at the movement, the motion sensors reacting to their motion and illuminating as they went. They travelled down deeply, more flights than Levon would have thought until they reached a level when Jess stopped. She went across to the wall and pulled open a small metal box affixed to it. Inside she pressed a series of numbers on a keypad, and then a door lock released. She pushed open the door next to it which appeared, again as if from nowhere.
Levon noticed the smell before anything, warm cosy home cooking greeted his nostrils before his eyes could take in what lay beyond. They went inside, met by a room which was long yet intimate. A huge sofa extended along the wall, the bare bricks filled with pictures and holograms which moved and swayed. The people residing within which grinned and waved back, the snapshots of family moments.
Coming into the room from a door on the other side, a woman stood momentarily before hurrying across to embrace Jess. She called out for others who came also, each embracing her and smiling. Jess introduced Levon to her family; her mother and her wife, her father and her brothers and her grandparents and aunt, who all came to welcome them in. They collapsed onto the large chairs while someone went to get refreshments which before long were weighing down the table, snacked at by hands which animatedly retold stories and updates on everyone’s lives.
“How long has it been since you’ve seen everyone?” Levon asked, catching a moment between conversations.
“About three months. It’s been a long time for me. The work recently has been intense.” Jess replied, popping a small triangle sponge cake into her mouth. Levon looked at her with fresh admiration.
“You really sacrifice a lot for the cause, don’t you?” He said, perhaps a little surprised himself that he had said it. She looked back at him, the dusting of the cake around her mouth. She swallowed.
“We all do.” She said, touching him lightly on the knee.
“So, is this a fleeting visit or are you staying awhile?” Jess’s aunt said, reaching across for a small cake herself. Levon noticed her arms were bleached a pale colour, something he’d seen frequently in those he’d cleansed, the result of working in the turbine coolant sites dotted across the city. These turbines stuck high into the sky like giant needles, catching particles that they transfused into energy. Many people worked these sites as they were very labour intensive due to the cities strict protocols for AI’s in the workplace, limiting their presence in certain sectors.
“Well, we’ve actually come here for a favour. I’m hoping you can help us out.” Jess said, somewhat awkwardly now at being asked directly the reason they had come.
“Ooooh, is this for the Order?” One of her brothers asked, looking at the marks on Levon’s arm.
“Yes, it is. I need to tell you all everything.” She said, nodding at Levon as if seeking an approval. He involuntary nodded back, agreeing it was okay in a way before Jess told her family everything that happened and what they needed from them.
Jess’s younger brother was now climbing on Levon’s back, poking at his arms. He was only six and seemed fascinated by Levon’s markings which reached all the way up his back and neck.
“So, what do you all think?” Jess asked, waiting the correct amount of time to pierce the silence that had fallen since explaining. Her family looked at each other, unsure of what to say next. It was her grandmother who said something first.
“So, there’s no guarantee this won’t kill us?” She said in a blunt fashion, but not out of anger.
“No, there’s no way of knowing what….” Jess started, but Levon cut in.
“There’s a risk, but there’s a safety net too. Being so close to the Altered I will be able to move across and help if anything bad happens. I have some powers that I think will help. It’s still a dangerous risk, but I think we can mitigate it.” He said, smiling a genuine smile. He liked her family; it was what he had missed from his own life. Looking around at the humble house, he knew that despite their circumstance, there was love here.
“But I don’t even have SIN.” Her mother’s wife said, looking somewhat nervous at saying the wrong thing.
“That’s perfect, we need to know how it affects everyone.” Jess said, and the woman smiled in relief; knowing it seemed she could still play a part.
“So, what are we waiting for then, where do we need to go?” Her grandmother said, getting up now off of the sofa and brushing the crumbs onto the floor.
Jess exhaled in relief and looked at Levon.
“Is that a yes then?” Levon said, surprised at how quick it had been.
“You said it was important, and also that we’re against the clock here.” The aunt said, also rising.
“Indeed.” Levon said and took out his companion from the inside of his jacket.
“Wow, are we really going into the Altered?” One of her brother’s said, excitedly.
“Somewhere pretty close.” Levon said, placing the book on his lap, flicking the pages to the part he needed.
“Better buckle up Walter, it’s going to be pretty wild.” Jess said to her brother, taking out her own companion and taking in her family there in that moment all together.
Peace, that was what usually met him when he stepped into the Altered. The magical realm that he felt was his alone, though he knew it was not. Now it was different, it was a hubbub of noise and action, light, and movement.
They had all stepped over, Levon, Jess and her family. They hovered momentarily in the Altered, before rewinding back into the purgatory place between there and the material realm. Where the Altered offered a calm with its twirling mists and mind creating spaces, this place was all noise and fusion. They hung inside what seemed like large oversized clear Christmas baubles, giant spheres which throbbed with a pulse of their own. They drifted through a clouding haze, a grey smoke which swirled around other orbs, knocking into their own and bursting with new sounds and senses.
They had come over with the help of Levon’s incantation, which successfully took them to the Altered and then stepped them back. Like rewinding a film. Levon had only passed through this place once before, in his own learning experiences of the magic and the states. His journeys into the Altered were so clean and effortless now due to his gifts, it was like stepping through a door. For others, it was a deliberating and confusing process. Jess, who had a little experience in these realms herself felt drained, as if her mind was held before her and stretched like chewing gum.
Her family looked around the sphere they were in, globs of blue and green liquid began to leak down the sides, undulating to a wave of sound that bombarded them. They huddled together, looking around confused, taking it all in.
Levon stood in the centre of the sphere, taking out his companion quickly, and commanding another incantation. He held his arm outstretched, as if commanding the air all around. He breathed out a spell, and the words formed before him in green and blue. They flew to the sides, sticking into the crystal walls that deceptively made the sphere smaller than it was. The words hovered for a moment before melding with the other bits of the liquid and began to twist around the walls, painting a swirled pattern all around which eventually coated their sphere.
The noises ebbed, and the motion of the sphere halted; Levon’s control and protection taking hold.
“Wow, that was something. Where are we?” Said Ethy, the oldest one there, being the grandmother. She touched the sides of the sphere, her hand disappearing into vapour momentarily, before returning.
“Purgatory, or at least the place between places.” Levon said, the markings on his arms glittering with a green glow.
“I hadn’t expected it to be so beautiful.” Came Jess’s mother, who looked below her seeing the clouds swirling and dance.
“Or so loud!” Said Pearce, Jess’s grandfather, wiggling his little finger in his ear as if ringing out bathwater.
“Well, there’s not much time to enjoy the sights. Levon, do you know what to do next?” Jess said, hoping for him to take charge.
Levon looked around, seeing the confused, scared and amazed faces. He had forgotten what it must be like to look at the magic through fresh eyes.
“Everyone is safe, we’re in no danger here.” Levon said as a giant sphere containing a volcano came drifting towards them, spewing inside a lava river which sploshed and splashed the sides of the orb. The noise of which bubbled into their space slightly, like listening to something through a can down a piece of string. All around them orbs floated and crashed into one another, bits of the planet and the world they knew held inside; waterfalls, lions, jellyfish, pollution, and balls of earth. Drifting around in a perpetual state of being.
“I’m glad you know what you’re doing.” Pearce said, backing away from an orb carrying a small hurricane inside which was heading towards them.
“Jess, we need to make our way to the equator. The strip of the surround, like the rings of Saturn. Here is where the energy levels from both the Altered and the material connect. That’s where we can perform the test.” Levon said.
Jess had explained to them already what they had put their lives on the line for. What was needed, and how uncertain it could be. They had nodded and gone along with it; comforted by Levon’s promise that he would be there to help and that it was all to help others. They would’ve come along without these reassurances though; they would’ve come to help Jess no matter what. They were family, and she had sacrificed so much for them in the past, it was their own way to give something back. Circumstance had left them on the lowest rung in society, but they had held strong to their morals and respect; and had raised Jess to be the fighter that she was.
“There, that’s it.” Den said, her younger brother. He pointed behind where they stood, the rings looming for a moment before a giant landscape orb drifted in sight.
Levon tapped his arm and muttered some words before their sphere halted and turned in the same direction, heading towards the rings. It purred along like a cat, nudging out the other orbs gently without a sound. As they got closer to the red rings, they heard the pulsing of them, humming like electrical cables.
They gently came to rest by the rings which swirled around so fast, orbiting the world, that they looked static. A moment later a huge green and blue pulse was emitted from the swirling rings, going both up and out and down towards the centre of the earth.
“We have to catch those pulses, right?” Jess said, taking out her little companion.
“Yep, they go every few minutes. Imagine them like nerve endings traveling through the worlds.” Levon said. He took out the vial. The little bottle of Holy Water he had gotten from the bishop, and in which lay all their hope.
“That the stuff?” Pearce said, nodding towards the vial. They all looked at it, the matter inside swelled like mercury.
“Yes, it’s changing form in this environment. But it should still be fine. I need to recite a spell, and the stopper will dissolve away before it’s released and will wash through…..” Levon had said but was interrupted by intermittent screams which were slowly building.
Vivian, Jess’s stepmother, was beginning to howl incoherently.
“I can’t…. we can’t…this can’t be…it will kill us all….” She began panting out, hyperventilating. She was flailing her arms around, spurred on by the surreal orbs that were floating into view outside and which offered her such a strange view of their reality.
“Calm down Viv, shhhh. It’s fine. It’s all going to be alright.” Her mother cooed to her, as if calming a child.
“Vivian, you signed up to this. We can’t back down now.” Jess said, the others nodding in agreement.
“But, look…. What if it doesn’t work.” She spluttered through sobs. She was slowing her breath now, the rubs to her back from her mother seeming to calm her.
“Levon is here, he said nothing bad will happen. This needs to happen though Vivian. We need to save the others from what is planned. You know this.” Jess said curtly.
This seemed to help, and Vivian calmed further, though her eyes darted back and forth.
“Come on Viv, we’ve all agreed to help.” Ethy said, patting the woman on the shoulder.
Levon came over to her, he pulled the sleeves to his arms up revealing the intricate signs and symbols which covered them both. He knelt in closer to the woman and muttered something to her. A sense of calm seemed to wash across her face, and she nodded her head as if nothing in the world could phase her.
Levon stepped back, stepping once more by the vial which now was placed in the middle of the sphere.
“Right, let’s get going. Jess, time the pulses.” He said as they all looked at Vivian who had quietly sat down crossed legged.
“Is she alright?” her mother asked, and Levon nodded back.
“Jess will recite some protection spells also, so I think all will be fine.” He said, looking to Jess for recognition. She nodded back, flicking through some pages in her companion in preparation.
“Seven minutes and seven seconds.” Den said to Levon, tapping the little screen he had on his wrist. He had timed the pulses it seemed.
“Nice. Thank you.” Levon said. “Can you count down to the next?” He said, and the boy suddenly started to count down from forty-three seconds loudly, as if he was doing a public service message to the sphere. They all looked out to the world they were spun up in, watching the beauty and the immense, seeming both obsolete and necessary in the grand scheme of things.
“Once the pathogen is released, there will be a blinding light which will wash around and through everyone. We’ll know the second it’s over if it’s been successful.” Levon said to Jess.
“…16, 15, 14…”
“Let’s hope this works.” Jess replied, finding the correct protective spell herself in her little companion.
“It will be bright, the energy here is insane. It will accelerate the particles, so if it doesn’t work, we’ll know as it will vaporise the incompatible.” Levon said, flicking to a page in his companion.
“What, really?” Jess said, quickly glancing from one family member to the next, suddenly unprepared for this to be the last time she may see any of them. With their varying levels of SIN, it was a gamble for this to work she suddenly realised. But it was too late to go back.
“…2, 1” her brother said, yelling the last few numbers louder.
The pulse came and Levon incanted as planned, the symbols on his arm glowing in the haze flare of the magic and the pathogen erupting all around. It was like a small silent explosion went off inside that orb, photons dancing with the atoms of a myth and magic together in a great combining. The light which blasted out was brighter than three suns, and they all shielded their eyes as it bathed their souls.
It took only moments, the air alive with little green and blue sparks as a calm descended inside the sphere. All was silent aside the little electric splutters of the sparks which danced like little dragons in the air. They all opened their eyes, eager to see if it had worked, and who survived.
Sighs and smiles emerged; a quick glance reported their number to be the same as before. Cheers and laughter of relief erupted, family members embraced each other, swelled with an energy and feeling of strength that many had not felt in years, if ever.
“It worked, it worked!” Ethy said, high fiving her grandson who then began darting around between their legs. Jess smiled, her heart lighter now and happy to know she had not lost anyone she loved. She turned to look at Levon, an impulse to hug him pulling at her body.
“Wait, where is Levon?” Jess said, finding only an empty spot where before his body had stood. His companion lay on the floor, fluttering in a little breeze that was coming from a hole in the side of the wall.
Stefan picked up the glass of water, looking at the remnants in the bottom. Dark particles and flecks of green swirled in the glass, sediments that Aiko had dribbled back into. He took the glass away from the dimly lit room in which Aiko was resting within on a raised bed. He still wore the suit which he had used going across into the Altered, the helmet placed to one side.
Stefan returned moments later, the glass now devoid of the contaminants and refilled with fresh water.
“What else do you need?” Stefan asked, placing the glass down by the side. Aiko quickly reached across for it, his arm a mangled piece of flesh now, riddled with what looked like heavy burning but scorched black. Little flecks of green, like those in the glass, peppered his flesh like little emeralds.
“To hydrate, quickly.” Aiko spluttered, his mouth sparking little green sparks. “The hydrogen water is suffice, but for now I just need to recover.” He added, emptying the glass hurriedly.
Stefan reached over to take it from him.
“What else can I do?” He asked him, unsure of how to proceed. He had found Aiko slumped unconscious when he’d come to his home to collect some contracts. Aiko occupied the top few floors in one of his buildings on the Southbank, his main city residence. He preferred this one to his others as it was close to his business and could operate efficiently within the city.
Stefan had found him lying on the floor, surrounded by a small area of blackness, like powdered charcoal. He had got him into his bed just as he had regained consciousness. Aiko had ordered him to administer a medical robot to scan him over, checking his vitals and any signs of damage. Stefan had watched silently as the robot had done its magic, injecting and reporting until Aiko was more comfortable. He had placed the helmet near to the bed, noticing the scorch marks on it and the damage also to Aiko’s body. At first glance his injuries seemed to be burns, but the strange glows and the fine powder had troubled him. The most disturbing aspect to Stefan however were Aiko’s eyes, which now shone with an inky blackness covering the sclera.
Stefan was not an idiot, he knew of the Altered, in whatever form it had been known to him. Hearsay and whispering, subtle hints at another world and little tales of magic. He knew this was where Aiko went, this was also what he put some of Aiko’s power down to. How he was able to operate so successfully in this world. We all needed little aids. Aiko had never discussed this with him before, but he had guessed something of this sort. He had seen the machines and the technology the company produced, Aiko’s future plans and especially his latest venture, which relied so heavily on an ambiguous element. Discovering him how he did, he assumed something had gone wrong perhaps over in this place.
“What is the timeframe for EDEN?” Aiko stammered from the bed, ignoring Stefan’s question.
“Sir, you may need further medical….” But Aiko interrupted.
“I’m fine. What is the timeframe now?” He asked again. Stefan tapped at his wrist, files and images illuminated into the air, harshly in the low light.
“Six hours until we begin initiation of the final phase. Dependent on source deployment which has yet to be confirmed. Resettlement phase has completed, and operations are functional at full capacity. Two hours until the west side lock down comes into effect, as discussed; the disaster procedure framework will initiate the lockdown.” Stefan reported, his voice dry in the cold air.
“The source has yet to be contained, I need to handle this myself. It will require a four-hour window. Please factor this in.” Aiko said, sitting up slightly.
“In addition?” Stefan asked. Aiko looked over, the dark eyes revealing nothing.
“No, in unison.” He replied. He tapped some buttons on his suit, and this seemed to melt away; the textures caving in on each other like tiny bricks folding away. He moved the small disk to one side, the compacted suit now reduced down to the size of a playing card.
“Very well. Anything else?” Stefan asked, eager to get away from the room, which was now creeping over him ominously, like dark hands now scratching at his legs.
“I need to get some things together. They are here, but I will need your help. So don’t leave without telling me.” Aiko wheezed, as if struggling to talk.
“Perhaps….” Stefan began, but caught himself.
“I’m fine, the recovering will take about an hour. I need for you to begin the isolation solution, shift the power from site Het to initiate. The stockpiles should form within the time it takes for me to heal.” Aiko said, closing his eyes.
Here Stefan seemed to straighten up, eager to share some good news.
“These have already been done and finalised. The isolations have migrated the conflicting pathogens across. We did this as a test for the system, but they took such little power due to the new cells at the facility that we went ahead already.”
“What?” Aiko said, he voiced veiled any anger that may have been present.
“Well, we needed to move ahead with the timeline. And as we hadn’t heard from you, it was agreed to continue as planned.” Stefan replied, unsure now if this was the right thing to have done.
Aiko remained quiet, processing this information. He sat forward, looking at his arm now and the markings that were riddle up and down it. He turned to Stefan.
“Were there any by-products?” He asked.
Stefan nodded, as if expecting this question. “Yes, there were, but we’ve isolated these away. It was as you said, anything in flux would be captured.”
Aiko then smiled, sensing a victory.
“How many?” He asked. Stefan tapped again at his wrist. Little lights danced out, projecting some images.
“Three individuals, one of which died through re-alignment.” Stefan said, unfazed by the information.
“Is one of them Levon?” Aiko asked suddenly, a strength coursing through his words.
Stefan looked again at his information.
“Yes, a Levon Wexton and Samuel Wexton.”
Something in the room changed then, though Stefan knew not what.
“What did you say?” Aiko asked, almost as if he’d been insulted.
Stefan repeated, checking the information as if searching for an error.
“I’m assuming father and son.” He added, hesitantly.
It was the first time Stefan had heard Akio Tsutsumi laugh, he who was closest to him had rarely seen him display any great emotion. It was the first time, and he hoped it would be the last as it slithered and coiled around him in the room in a disturbingly maniacal fashion. Making the space a place he longed to leave quickly.
“Where’s Levon?” Jess asked, the euphoric whoops of her family still reverberated around the orb. She hastily darted her eyes back and forth, uselessly scanning the transparent space hoping to find him hiding in a corner.
“Wait, what happened to Levon?” Ethy asked, noticing his absence and Jess’s concern.
“Look!” Walter said, picking up Levon’s companion and handing it to Jess.
“Oh no! I knew something would happen.” Came from her mother’s wife, she was pulling at her cardigan sleaves agitatedly. Everyone slowly became silent, looking to Jess for some word or explanation. She, after all, knew about this stuff. After a moment, her mother looked at her and asked
“Jess dear, is everything okay? What’s happened?”
She had concern yet warmth in her eyes, the warmth Jess had known and loved for her lifetime. She looked around once more, taking in the world they were floating in. She went across to the hole in the side of the orb, strange green scorch marks bruised the edges of the gap.
“Obviously something has gone wrong, he wouldn’t have left us.” Ethy said, pulling her grandson in closer to her protectively. Jess caught herself there for a moment, remembering what Levon had said to them.
“He must have tried to stabilise it or correct something that was happening. Remember, he said he can go into the Altered if need be. That’s it, I’m sure.” Jess said, convincing herself as much as the others.
“But where is he now then?” Her mother’s wife asked, nervously.
“Well, maybe something happened which prevented him coming back right away. The magic is like energy, it drains as well as bolsters. Maybe he just needs some time.” Jess said. They all looked at her unsure. Jess continued.
“Either way, we are all alive, and the test worked. No one has any missing or additional body parts, right? So, it was a successful trial, we now have to get back to let them know as the order can move forward with the plan. The timeframe hasn’t changed.”
“But what about Levon?” Walter asked, his face saddened as if missing his dog.
“The order will know what to do. We have to head back right away.” She said, determinedly. As if action can put away the little doubts that had begun to creep into her mind.
“And you know how to do that, right?” Her mother asked her. Jess thought for a moment.
“Yes, I can do it.” She said, opening her own companion.
“Would Levon’s be able to help?” Her aunt asked, pointing towards his that Jess held also.
“The companions are personal; they only benefit the …. wait.” Jess said and started to frantically flick through Levon’s little book.
“Perfect, I can get us right back and where we need to be quick as a flash.” She said, and with that she placed her finger on a large symbol on the back of Levon’s companion and uttered a quick incantation. It echoed around the orb as if they were in a huge cathedral. Little particles of light drifted off the small book and peppered everyone in the orb, and with one bright flash they disappeared; leaving the orb to float for a moment before popping into nothing.
Levon had known pain before, the intense kind that forced you to cry inside. The mental anguish that can latch onto you in your darkest moments. Pain can be like a boiling hot bath that you are unable to get out of, or one that just burns your toe.
The pain that had engulfed him as he was ripped from the Limbo was nothing like he’d ever experienced or would ever want to again. It felt like his bones had been broken individually, grinded up and sprinkled back into some human form. He’s skin had felt as if it had been hacked off by a dull blade. His mind throbbed now in the afterglow of agony, housed in the cylindrical tube that was his new prison.
But he was not alone in this new confinement.
The room was dark yet spacious, the ceiling vaulted upwards with an array of tubes and conducts snaking their way to different homes. Levon stood in a glass tube, held into position by metal jacks which poked into all areas of his body. He was naked, and he felt it; the cold, almost frigid air panted over him as a scanning device rotated up and down the glass, checking his status.
To his left there were two other tubes and he’d noticed another one to his right. This one was not empty like those on the other side, this one housed another soul, and one whom Levon recognised instantly.
His father was propped up inside the glass much like himself, yet he was not conscious; Levon could see that. His head hung forward and to the side, and for a moment Levon thought of the crucifixion images that had so captured, and fetishized Christ’s last moments on the cross.
Levon had only just come to, and his mind was trying to map together the events that had transpired. Aside from the physical pain that still ran through him, he felt something else, a tingling in his arms. He looked down and saw little particles dancing on his symbols and markings. The green and blue flecks peppered his skin, and he felt a slight numbing sensation over the marked areas. The red scanning device burst back and forth, sparking the particles into little jolts of lightning. His body tingled and ached, and his brain still felt sluggish.
The lights in the room bloomed to brightness, and two persons entered and came close to the glass. Levon closed his eyes, pretending his state of continued unconsciousness. Though muffled, he could just about hear what they said through the glass.
“So vital signs are all good?” Stefan asked to the woman who stood next to him. She was tall and wore a pale blue lab coat which seemed to fit her oddly, extending her neck and head upwards almost comically.
“Surprisingly so for what they’ve been through. The older is struggling a bit more, but the fact they survived was a miracle.” The woman said, sliding through a report which she projected up in front of them both. She slid along some screens that floated there, seeming to find what she was looking for. “For some reason the system can’t generate an age for Wexton senior, the gene maps are all over the place with him.”
“Not to worry, we have enough information as it is on these two. Mr Tsutsumi has requested certain, urm, procedures for these two.” Stefan said, his eyes darted back and forth.
“I’m sure he has, the extraction machine that’s been fitted to the facility is a big indicator of what he has planned.” The woman said, resting a hand on her hip.
“Dr Camogue, I’m sure you will be the epitome of professionalism.” Stefan said, sarcastically.
“As I break the law, of course I will be.” She said, smiling a knowing smile.
“It’s for a greater good, remember that.” Stefan added, almost marking the authority that he thought he had.
“Oh, I do indeed. There will be certain benefits to my own studies with this anyway. So win win I would say.” She replied.
“Good, then I will keep quiet about what you do with your little project, if you remain equally taciturn with mine.” Stefan said, turning to face her now. She seemed unfazed, as if expecting this circumstance.
“Certainly. Would you like to see them also?” Dr Camogue asked. Her eyes flared red momentarily as the scanners descended and ascended up the cylinders. Stefan nodded to her. She flicked some screens and reset the reports as the screen disappeared. Levon could hear some whirling sounds and felt the throb of the scanner going past him. Dr Camogue walked across the room towards another door, this vanished in an instant as the detector read her authority pass, shimmering the door away.
“I’ve kept the Tanakas isolated, as there is a different agenda for them. Best not to muddy the waters, but they are all in stasis, until you tell me what to do with them next.” She said, walking Stefan through the door and out of earshot of Levon.
The door returned and once more Levon was alone in the room with just his father. Levon watched as the lights darkened once more and then turned to look at him as he was stirring in his tube. His father rolled his head back and forth before opening his eyes. He seemed alert instantly, grasping his confines and predicament much quicker than Levon had.
“Ah, Levon. Fancy meeting you here.” He said, giving his son a friendly smile.
Secretly, Jess was amazed with herself. It hadn’t been that long ago that she was feasting on such small scraps from the magical world she knew lay beyond her door. So tangibly there yet beyond her grasp. But with everything that had happened, the thrust into the realm had forced her to think on her feet.
She had gotten everyone back safely, navigating through time and space and magical portals. The bridge that she had been so awed by and hesitant of was now the doorway that she could pass by on in ease. The Altered had a strange way of presenting both places and timeframes, but she had been able to pass through, out and over it all. The markings on Levon’s companion were the key. Like a reboot button it allowed her to return to the Order’s main hub beneath St. Patrick’s cathedral. She would never understand the science or the magic to any learned degree, but she had felt the electricity within her bones when she had conjured and brought her family back home safely, leaving the Limbo and tickling the fringes of the Altered.
They had stumbled forth from a huge stone doorway which spewed a blueish vapour around them. The doorway, or more of a doorframe, was centred in the middle of a room similar to the laboratory crypt she had been in previously. Around them the familiar sights of a church greeted them, but with these there were huge storage boxes, screens and strange objects which seemed to have been plucked right out of the Altered. The room was a bustle with people hastily moving about with agendas and intent. Jess and her family were greeted by members of the order who were alerted to their incoming return. Not long after they had orientated themselves, Karen entered the room from a little door hidden away at the side. She swept on up to Jess and embraced her, taking her off guard momentarily.
“Thank goodness you’re alright. And that you got back!” Karen said, breaking out of her extended embrace.
“Yes, it was pretty wild. But it was a success of sorts.” She said, casting her hand to her family to show that they were all alive and well.
“Just to get back on your own Jess, from the Limbo. That takes some doing, even with Levon’s return function. You have a grasp for the magic, it must accept you on a cellular level.” Karen said, smiling at her family.
“But where’s Levon, he disappeared after we released the pathogen. Which had no adverse effects, asides his removal. Where is he?” Jess said, putting her hand on her little brother’s shoulder, warning him not to run away as he clearly was prone to go and explore.
“He’s not here, but we know where he is. Jess, he was snatched by Atone, they intercepted during our trial of the pathogen release. It seems they have machines that can monitor the Altered and can also materialise users and objects. We’re not ignorant to this technology, we have our own trackers for the Altered; but to dematerialise from there, this is new to us. The dangers involved must be insane.” Karen said, Jess read the concern all over her face.
“But he’s alive?’ She asked urgently, worried more now.
“Yes, we know he is. He’s being held at site Bet. In one of the facilities within the towers. They also have the Pope with them, it seems they intercepted the cross activity along with another member of the order.” Karen added.
“At least he’s alive, but the Pope too. Wow. Thought he was beyond getting ensnared. So it seems they are doing their best to stop anything in the way of their plan to release the virus then.” Jess said. Her family were becoming agitated. Karen noticed this too and offered them to follow her. As they walked, jess asked what the next step was.
“Well, we will send some members to free both Levon and the Pope, but we still need to replace the virus with our own pathogen, now that thanks to you we know it works.” Karen said, leading them all down a corridor and into a huge room which had a more welcoming feel than the harshness of the church. She said her family could stay here before heading back to their home, they would be safer, and Jess agreed it would be the best for them. They settled in, taking to the huge chairs and couches while her grandmother went across to a small drinks table to mix herself something strong. Karen asked for Jess to follow her back, and after hugging her family and bidding them farewell, she followed Karen back out through the door and down the corridor.
“You’ve shown you can handle things, and indeed the magic. Jess, we’ve asked a lot of you but there is still more to do.” Karen said.
“I’m ready.” Jess said.
“We need to rescue Levon and the Pope, but we also need to stop the pandora machines. There’s one in each of the towers at the sites Het and Bet.” Karen said. They rounded into a room that was just as busy as the main one, with order members hurrying around. “Will you go to the tower in Het and switch the virus with our own Holy water. The readings we got from your family and the results of the pathogen are amazing, so we know it works”. Karen said.
“You were mapping us then?” Jess asked.
“Yes, much like Aiko’s technology we can monitor the Altered. We know the pathogen is stable now and can be released.” Karen said, excitedly.
“Great, I’m really pleased it worked. Not least because it was my family. But okay, yes; Aiko needs to be stopped. His time has come to an end.” Jess said.
“You’re telling me. Okay, you and some members will head to site Het. There may be some, umm; resistance…” Karen said, and Jess knew what she meant. Not one to look for trouble, Jess knew what the Others were likely to be like towards them, having lived for years at the end of their boots.
“I’ll try not to hurt too many people.” She replied.
“I had a feeling you could take care of yourself!” Karen said, smiling. “A rescue team, and another similar to yours will head to site Bet to do the same. We can’t seem to locate Aiko, so we have to assume he’s still moving forward as planned. Which is good for us in a way, as we know his timeframe.”
“Will Levon be okay, after he’s rescued. No damage done and all that?” Jess asked.
“He should be. There may have been some temporary reactions to the dematerialising, but we assume they are keeping them in stasis over there for some reason. They are both powerful people, and Aiko is no fool. He’ll want to keep them alive and use them.” Karen said, bringing up a screen and typing something into a system.
Jess hadn’t really had chance to stop or take things in, but she was getting used to this. She knew what was ahead of her, but she hoped that no one would be hurt. In her experience, someone always was; but enough people had suffered over the years and now it was time to end that.
“Better suit me up then, and let’s get going.” Jess said, and Karen smiled as the huge storage boxes opened up offering an array of military gear and weapons.
Levon pulled off the sensors that were stuck all over his body, pulling away more hairs than he would have liked. Fortunately, they did not trigger any disconnection alarms, or at least he hoped they weren’t silent. He prised at the connecting tube in his cylinder, forcing them to part and release him. The fluid that had covered half his body sploshed out onto the floor and washed away quickly down some metal grates. He went across to his father’s tube and pulled at his casing.
“Not opting for the clothes just yet then eh?” His father said, motioning to a rack of clothes on the side wall.
“Do you want to get out or not?” Levon asked, not seeing the humour.
“Of course, thank you. I shall look away until you are decent though. Respectfully.” Samuel said as his own tube burst apart and the fluid sloshed outwards much like the other. They both went across and found the clothing hung up. It wasn’t their own clothes but suits that looked like they were made for astronauts more than lab technicians. Levon’s was a bit on the small side, and he held his breath as he squeezed uncomfortably in.
“How the hell are you here?” Levon asked him suddenly. His father finished zipping up the side of his suit, it shrank as it covered his body, moulding to his shape.
“Snug.” He said as the same thing happened to Levon’s.
“Were you in the Altered also then? These snatching machines must have taken us from there together and materialised us here at Atone.” Levon said, having pieced things together.
“That is quite a thing really, if you think about it. Locking on to targets like that.” Samuel said.
“They must have marker trackers that sense the energy spikes. But I didn’t know about the transporting technology.” Levon said.
“Come now, it’s not much different to stepping over. The same rules apply. But the flux of the world is the trick I imagine.” His father said, looking about the room more. Levon thought about this and agreed, it was the same principle really. With the magic, it always seemed mythical and somewhat spiritual to him. Knowing that the cold soulless world of technology had grasped something similar, saddened and worried him slightly.
“So what were you doing to get taken like that?” Levon asked his father as he put on some boots which too clasped to the outline of his feet.
“Well, you know. Save the world, stop the bad guy. The usual stuff that you have a habit of following.” His father said.
“No one really knows what you get up to do they? You lord about like some messiah, never letting people in or come close. Never giving time to explain what you are doing or why.” Levon’s frustrations were getting the better of them.
“Does it matter?” His father said bluntly. Levon looked at him, somewhat stunned.
“Don’t look at me like that. Honestly, does it really matter if the job gets done, if no one gets involved or hurt. I’m the one who sacrifices things every day, I’m the one taken to places I never wish to go. Do you not think I would like to be around and be normal, be that father figure to you solely and not the order?” He said earnestly. Levon couldn’t remember him ever talking to him like this.
“I…, I know you do good. That’s not what bothers me. It’s just, I feel like such a failure myself. I don’t deserve the gift I have, not when I see what you do and what little I can achieve.” Levon said, hoping it didn’t sound too much like a child complaining.
His father stepped forward and put his hand on his shoulder.
“That is your own journey. You can’t live yourself through someone else’s eyes. You have come here to be tested and to change from the original one that entered this material world. The evolution in your cells hurried the physical change, but spiritually are you any better than you were before?” He squeezed his son’s shoulder, endearing a closeness that neither of them had shared in years. “We both have talents and gifts; it’s how we use them that matter. We equally give and take too much and too little. I know this too.”
Levon smiled, happy to see the emotional aspect to his father instead of the absent vapour entity he had come to know.
“I guess we both need to change more.” Levon said, moving in to hug his father.
“Exactly. Maybe you a little more.” Samuel said, grinning back to his son before he thought he was being serious. “This experience has crossed our paths; I recognise that as a sign. After this we can unpack our emotions, and how we go forward. For now, we must get moving and finish what had been started. Aiko has been weakened, but his intent has only strengthened.”
“So he made an attack on the altered then?” Levon asked, knowing a lot already of Aiko’s endeavours in the magical space.
“Yes, and it’s failure has changed him in this material realm now. He’s a lot more disconnected to humanity, and willing to do more than before.” Samuel said.
“Hmm, wasn’t he before!” Levon asked.
“Let’s just say now he has something clouding his judgements.” His father said.
“Look, we’re in the Bet facility which is great as it’s where we need to be to take down Aiko’s pandora machine. We need to let the Order know we are okay.” Levon added.
“I will let them know now. Chances are they are sending members to take control of the machines at both towers.” His father said, looking around the room more. He spotted a shelf of beakers and jars, and went across to them, taking one beaker down of the shelf.
“Well, that’s good. So we should be able to help them and take control of this facility.” Levon stated, watching his father as he went across to the broken tube that he had come out of.
“We could do that, though I think they have things taken care of. Our focus should be what’s in the next room.” He dipped the beaker inside the tube, scraping it down to the bottom, filling it with some of the fluid which had remained. He lifted it out and began to swirl it around, muttering something very quietly and quickly.
“What’s so important about the Tanakas now?” Levon asked him. He saw as the clear fluid in the beaker slowly changed colour, blooming into a blue liquid.
“Well, they are Aiko’s flesh and blood after all. They are yet to play their big part in this story.” As his father said this, Nina’s face began to appear in the beaker, sloshing about the liquid.
“Nice to hear from you Samuel.” Nina said, the words bubbling to the top of the beaker.
She couldn’t help it, it felt like going to war. This battle was to take place high above the city, looking down at the buildings that housed the inhabitants they hoped to save. Not that many cared or might even know of the lengths Jess and the order were to go to. They bustled about mostly in their ignorance, their little worlds the most important to them, theirs the most special. Once this was all over, Jess hoped that they could all start again. Her family had changed on a cellular level after the test, but their memories remained the same. They would never erase the years of mistreatment, oppression or injustice they had endured. Physically they hoped to change things, but people’s consciences and minds will be harder to evolve. That would be the next battle, Jess was sure.
But for now, her task lay before her. To get to the top of this building and put a stop to a machine that could end it all for everyone. Eyes on the prize she said to herself.
They exited out of a small wooden door that inconspicuously sat opposite the huge tower building. The HET facility had been completed a while ago but only recently had taken in the influx of staff who had relocated there. They had travelled through underground tunnels the Order used to maneuverer around the city unseen. They stepped from the forgettable small building they had arrived within, and down the laneway that led across to the tower. Their sources had told them of that all of Aiko’s sites had infused his technology with matter taken from the Altered. Unless you were looking, you would not be aware of such a system. Hiding in plain sight. But Jess and her small group of Order members were all too aware of how impotent somewhat they were now in using their magic.
They crossed the road and made their way into the transport hub that attached to the tower. The sheer glass frame housed the transport station, and they could enter the building here and access the floors they needed to. Aware of security, they moved almost stealth like through the station and were able to make it inside; despite their attire being a cause for alarm. It was late, and many people had left the building for the day. Despite this, many workers lived in the building, having been a part of the relocation project. So they had to be quick.
They made their way to the service areas where they came across their first obstacle. Security service robots had flagged their entry, and their lack of authorisation passes. They had descended quickly, and Jess and the members moved swiftly to disarm and disengage them. Now they were on the clock, as they knew their presence was no longer a secret. Jess took a final lunge at the remaining robot, pulling out its connective cording in its neck, the robot firing off it’s weapon at random as the sparks flew also from its head.
They left them where they fell and hastily made it to the service elevator and quickly ascended the building. Reaching only to level 89 their elevator stopped with a jolt and emergency warnings began to ring out exclaiming their breach of permission. They were quick and made it out of the roof of the elevator to get to a floor. They could see more robots descending down the huge shaft, their lights and metal glowing like a moving blur towards them. Like wild animals in a foggy night. They made it quickly through into level 90, prizing the doors apart and ducking out of the threat approaching them.
The floor was residential, and a café greeted them as they tumbled out onto the level. People were sat drinking their drinks, looking over to see the sight of Jess and the order members hurtling into their space. Nobody screamed or yelled, but frantic devices were reached for as they ducked out of sight. Jess thought this an odd reaction, a silent knee-jerk to an imposing threat. Maybe they had trained for something like this she thought, but she didn’t have long to think about it as the door behind them was heaved apart by the robots, and more seemed to swarm now across the way on the other side of the café.
They all bolted right in a unified front, escaping the robots from the elevator and discharging those that confronted them down the hallway. It was loud and frantic, shots and yells rang out, as lights flashed also. In an attempt to contain them, the security systems blasted the area with pressurised vapour, similar to liquid nitrogen. The order members were able to navigate through this, using quick self-contained enchantments which made them glow with a little blue film. The magic unheeded so far. The robots caught in the vapour were stuck and frozen to the spot, allowing them to slip past them and make it to another elevator terminal. Here one of the members, Daniel who as the youngest of the group aside Jess, overrode the operating system for the elevator and they bundled inside as it sped up again towards the 208th floor, where their next and final assault would take place.
Aiko moved across the large room, walking by the huge windows that opened out into the nights sky. If he’d had looked, he would’ve seen the lights of the bay over on the west side pulsing, the emergency warning systems initiating in locking down the area. Instead, his black eyes made their way quickly to the huge orb that rotated up on a small platform. Aiko eyed it closely. Much like the globe Jess had seen in Nina’s place, this one represented the Altered. Aiko had never seen it like this before. It spun and shook, vibrating manically as lights of green and blue flashed around it like little electrical storms.
The cloudy covering whirled and hissed, and he could see the very fabric of the space was being unstitched and re-stitched again, removing what was already there. The world was in a flux, or some sort of expunging. He wondered how this would reverberate in the material realm. Just as he thought this, he was drawn to the sky which was ripped apart with a huge bolt of turquoise lightning. It sped out into the bay before more forks began to snake across the sky, little dragons hurrying across the inky canvas.
He knew then he could not go to the Altered now. He barely survived his last trip, and now the whole structure of the place seemed to be regenerating to something beyond his understanding. He needed a source for his machines, but now this would not happen. He turned to look once more at the globe, seeing the little lightening dragons now over the material realm. He pinpointed his city there, his tiny speck of space that his empire resided. He thought of the people, those he was trying to change and those he wanted to seek revenge on. And then he laughed out loud, to no one but the empty room.
All his efforts had been to manipulate the magic for his own means. His own god complex, which he wasn’t too dissociated yet to not comprehend, it had made him make reckless and pointless choices. What did it matter if these people changed, or evolved? What did it matter if he removed the lower regarded ones and cleaned up the space for others? He found he didn’t care for anything or anyone now. People annoyed him, they hassled him, pulling his attentions always in another direction. He had hoped that similar minded and duplicated versions of himself, genealogically speaking, would make things better. But now he came to realise that this would never really end. He looked at the globe and realised how many people would need to be changed, how big the world actually is. How there would always be a resistance, a re-lapse, a revolution.
He dipped his finger into the orb, the static lightning and plumes of vapour nipped at his finger. He noticed that it turned black, staining his skin. He removed it from the orb and looked at this up towards the light. The blackness remained, like he had dipped his finger in ink. All black, as he blinked his eyes again, the clouding grey that had settled since his return shifted like a loose contact lens. All black. He would paint it all black, he decided. And with that he plunged his hands and arms deep into the orb until they too were stained with the blackness.
He no longer wanted to change these people, he no longer wanted to raise certain ones to a higher evolution like himself. He would be much happier without any of them he had decided. He now only wanted the world to burn. In sweet black fires.
“Nina, you’ve never looked lovelier my dear.” Samuel said to the effervescent version of Levon’s teacher.
‘So, you two are both alive, at least that is something.” She said. Levon watched as a huge bubble began and then popped out of her nose.
“Nothing broken, and we’re in the best place we can be.” Samuel said to her, turning the glass around so she could see Levon properly.
“Hey Nina.” Levon said, waving like a kid.
“You should be somewhere safe, like at the church or here. We’re about to take control of the machines at the sites. Where are you anyway?” She asked them.
“We’re at the site, BET I would imagine. And we have Aiko’s family in the next room.” Samuel said, happily as if it was all going how he planned.
“What, oh I guess that is where they would’ve taken you. Right well, we have the members taking control now. Where abouts are you in there?” She asked, calmly.
“Haven’t a clue.” Samuel said.
“Sub level 23. It says it here.” Levon said, exasperatedly, pointing to some signage over on the wall.
“Well, if you’re up to it you can assist the team; or return here. I think we need to be sensible about all this. If we can secure the machines, we can perhaps buy some time for anything else that you might have in mind.” She said to Samuel, seeming to know what he was thinking.
“Nope, I think what we need to do is to take his family to the Altered. There is a process I think Aiko will respond to.” He said, confidently.
“What, why? What’s the point, we can change everyone with our own Holy water. Why do we need to bother with Aiko?” Levon said, confused. Nina also looked as she was interested to see where he was headed with this.
The Pope sighed and looked off for a moment, taking in the room with all its contraptions and technology.
“You’ve seen how far we’ve come. How technology and ideas have pushed us further, yet more divided than ever before. Changing people into more evolved beings will not change the way they think. They allowed the world to become this way, they justified it with their own cellular developments. Aiko is the product of that ideology; he represents all that they hold dear. But we need to change the system that gave us Aiko Tsutsumi, or the way of thinking at least.” His father said assuredly.
Levon thought about this, almost comically scratching his head as it began to make sense to him.
“So if we can get to Aiko, he will represent what everyone else can do in the world, after the change. What the world will need to be.” Levon suggested. His father smiled back, nodding his head.
“Change Aiko, and you change them all then; fully?” Nina added, her face sloshing against the glass.
“Exactly.” Samuel replied. “But we need to get to them soon, as it sounds like others might have plans for them.”
“We need to get moving then. Is Jess with the order?” Levon asked, only just sparing a thought for his friend.
“She is with the team at the HET facility, so far so good I hear.” Nina said.
“And who is securing Aiko?” Levon asked. Nina paused a little.
“Well, no one. We couldn’t trace him anywhere.” She said, slightly defeatedly.
“No need to worry. He’ll come to us.” Samuel said, putting the glass with Nina’s head in it down on the side.
“He will?” Levon asked, uncertain.
“He will indeed, and probably within the hour.” He replied, and he stuck his finger into the glass. “Will be in touch Nina.” He said and swirled her face back into the clear water. Levon watched as her surprised features evaporated.
“So you have a plan then?” Levon asked him. His father looked to him, playfully offended.
“Levon, I always have a plan. It’s just people don’t know that I always do.” He replied, and with that, he set off towards the door they had watched Stefan and Dr Camogue had left through earlier. Levon couldn’t help himself, and he smiled as he sped on after him.
Jess could recall a countless number of times in her life when she had been attacked by ‘The Others’. Physically beaten, verbally assaulted. One time when she was a teenager she was pushed down a flight of stairs, backwardly tumbling step after step back down into the recess of the city and out of sight; all because someone thought she shouldn’t be somewhere where she could be seen. By those others who moved about in their own gilded self-contained world, always consuming; yet never giving back.
She thought of these instances as the faces of these others blurred past her. The smartly dressed ones who had been drinking coffee, and then cowered quietly out of the way. The more they made their way through the tower, Jess noticed more of a mix of people which was unknown for this location in the city. As many of the workers had relocated from other facilities, and those already operating and living in the tower prior to this; a strange fusion of peoples now occupied the tower. Aiko had inadvertently mixed the two groups together, maintaining control through a shared goal. She could tell they were mixed, something about those with SIN she could always spot right away, like an internal scanner she passed before them. It was a habit, something she did without thinking about it. She was now trying to save everyone, regardless of what their cells said about them, or how they had treated her in the past.
She passed them all now, those with and without residing in the tower that looked out to sea; climbing up to god.
She and the other members rode the elevator a certain way, then exited out again, making their way through further residential and office spaces. Their map projections were taking them a way that was to avoid any unneeded confrontations, accessing the areas where there would be more people but less security. They moved quickly and found themselves at some hover pods which would take them right to the top where they new the machines were located, both here and in the other tower.
They all climbed aboard, the scanner moving over them a few times, scanning fruitlessly until Daniel overrode the system once again. The scanner recoiled back into its compartment and the hover pod, which looked like the top of a glass, floated upwards towards the higher floors, carrying them silently. They were a much nicer way to move around, though none of the group sat on the luxurious white leather seats. Before too long they had reached the top and Jess could see that their job was about to get a lot harder.
There were guards and security robots everywhere they looked. The floor was a strange mix of open plan arrangements with little hives dotted about the place, rooms they guessed which were more private. Over to one side and encased in glass they could see a machine, jutting out into the outside part of the building which loomed over the city. It was dark, and the outside lights were turned off, though pulses of red flashed repeatedly from the red safety light that adorned the very top of the tower.
They all looked at each as the hover pod came to a gentle stop and hoped they enjoyed their time there. Jess and the order were able to act only a fraction of a second before they were spotted, and an incessive alarm rang out alerting everyone to their presence. Though Jess would regret anyone getting hurt, she was so struck by the adrenaline that coursed through her, that much of the fight was a blur to her. A frantic show of lights and flashes, of strange noises and robots descended in sparks and screams.
Stefan looked at Aiko’s family, all of them suspended in the same glass tubing that had housed both Levon and his father. The room was much the same, if not larger and with a window. Or what was meant to be a window, they were still underground and the vast glass space on the wall simulated outside views to give the working space a less subterranean feel. Synchronised to the time of the day, the current view was that of a harbour at night, the boats bobbing on the gentle waves as the lights of the dock peppered the water.
All of them were there, though this only amounted to a handful of them. Aiko had been able to pull himself out of the mud of his circumstance, but his family had not. They had withered and struggled, suffering more than most due to the compendium of hinderances and genetics that had cruelly disposed on them. His parents had survived, and one of his grandparents. But of his immediate family, there was only a sister remaining.
Stefan tapped the glass like he was in an aquarium, and the girl flashed her eyes open to him. He stepped back, alarmed.
“They can’t do anything, fear not. We’re controlling their muscles and brain activity anyway. I could make her if I wanted, but best not to play with them.” Dr Camogue said, pulling up a screen before her.
“So, they are all healthy and fine?” Stefan asked, looking across to the other bodies in the tubes.
“I don’t quite know about healthy, they lived over on the West Side. Their SIN levels are off the charts too, I can’t believe Aiko came from this?” She said, registering disbelief.
“But they’re fine?” Stefan pressed.
“Yes, you can see they are.” She replied, sliding the screen and looking over more information which glowed with red and white lights.
“They need to be strong for the extraction you said, I’m just making sure. And that they won’t be harmed.” Stefan added. She looked at him.
“Trust me, I know what I’m doing. They are fine for the procedure.” The doctor said. Stefan nodded.
“I know, and sorry if you think I’m being difficult. A lot rides on this. If everything falls apart, and Aiko doesn’t get the results he’s hoping for. We need them as insurance. There’s a secret locked inside of them, as these results show.” Stefan said, his hand pointing to the little hovering screens in front of the tubes.
It seemed to give a read out of the occupant’s vitals, along with a series of flashing numbers and signs. These, as Stefan had come to learn, were mutated coding markers in their genetics. Aiko had gotten out of the mud, so to speak, but the silty world of his family’s make-up held a secret about his own evolutional path that was unique to the Tanakas. For that mud had been sprinkled with its own magic.
“It’s fine, I get it. But don’t worry. We’ll extract what’s needed and keep them in stasis until everything unravels. This facility is protected anyway, so whatever goes on upstairs will not affect anyone here. They’ll remain unchanged.” Dr Camogue said, before continuing. “Though I am making sure that my own body gets that super boost Aiko is promising, even with a little help from mother nature.” She said, eyeing him.
“What do you mean?” Stefan asked curiously.
“Well, we can all do with a little enhancer; let’s just say I have my own little medicine to take when the process begins.” She said, almost proudly.
“You sure that’s safe. All of this is based on a magic that is still hard to comprehend.” Stefan said, unsure.
“There you go, doubting again. Don’t.” She said, and though was playful, Stefan sensed a nastiness lurking there. “It’s all under control.”
She said this with such certainty, it was a strong emotion that hung on her face as it, she and Stefan were frozen to the spot.
Levon and Samuel had entered the room and expecting to find someone; had come prepared. A quick incantation from Samuel had used the condensation from the tubes to collect and then snake across both Stefan and Dr Camogue. The magic had frozen their bodies in place as the water travelled across their skin.
“That’s Stefan Ruud, he’s Aiko’s assistant.” Levon offered, going with his father towards the frozen pair. “What do they want with the Tanakas?” Levon asked his father, who was looking at the Doctor.
“Could be many things, good or bad. I know the good doctor here has a history of experimenting, so it’s probably best we get them away from her.” He said, something in his eyes told Levon he knew a lot more about her.
“Are they able to go in this state, or do we need to release them first.” Levon asked, looking at the tubes which bubbled away slightly. He felt the solution on his own skin for a moment, reminded of his own confinement a short time ago.
“Well, they can…” Samuel began, but what they could do Levon never found out.
The door to the room had opened and Aiko Tsutsumi stood there, his black eyes taking in the scene.
“Your eminence.” He said, mockingly towards The Pope.
Samuel turned to look at him but remained calm, no sign of surprise took him.
“Ah, Ai. Good to see you, a little family reunion it seems.” He said.
Aiko looked at the glass tubes, which seemed to conclude his suspicions. Levon went to move forward in an attack, but his father held his hand up to stop him.
“And what is going on with these people then? As for family, I would be pressed to use that word.” Aiko said, moving further into the room.
“Well, it seems your friend Stefan and the Doctor here have a nice little plan for them. I hope it was to keep them safe while you tried to ruin the world, but I fear it might have been something more untoward.” Samuel said.
There was just a tiny flicker in Aiko’s eyes, but he shook it off and continued.
“They mean little to me.” He said.
“As do many it seems now, but it doesn’t have to be this way.” Samuel said.
“Yet it is. What are family but a letdown. What are others, besides an annoyance. A great purge is coming, and I believe I will be better off on the other side of it.” Aiko said, quietly.
“There is more than just you in this world Aiko. And indeed, another world where you are equally at odds.” Samuel said, watching both Aiko And Levon, trying to control both.
“That world will fall too.” Aiko replied, his hands moving to his arm slightly. Samuel noticed this.
“Don’t do anything that will mean you are forever lost Ai.” Samuel said.
“Don’t call me that.” Aiko replied, almost in a snarl. And he reached towards a dial on his suit, the same as he had worn to go into the Altered.
But Samuel was quicker.
He flicked his hand around, sending the water that had encased Stefan and the Doctor and flung it against the glass tubes. Both Stefan and Dr Camogue unfroze, staggering for a moment on the spot. Samuel then grabbed his son, and with his other hand tapped a sign on his wrist and muttered some words quickly.
A green vapour had begun to emit from Aiko’s own suit, but he was not matched with The Pope’s swiftness. They had vanished in a flash and Aiko was left with the vapour pooling around the room with the glass tubes now empty, and Stefan and the Doctor looking at him in surprise.
They arrived at the bridge; the huge marker stones loomed before them as the bridge spanned out into a fog. Levon stumbled, and he caught himself. He saw his father now, bent over, wheezing as one might after a huge run. Around them were the bodies of Aiko’s family, their eyes closed but they did not look dead, more like asleep. They had arrived hard, and some of them had collapsed onto each other.
“Are you okay?” Levon asked his father, who stood with his hands on his knees.
“Yes, yes…. just that took a lot to do.” He said, as if trying to catch his breath.
Levon went across to check on the family, and they all seemed okay. Indeed, the younger girl had begun to stir, opening her eyes and sitting up slightly.
“Hey.” Levon said, going over to her.
“What the hell is going on?” She said, angrier then scared.
“Far from hell, you can rest assure my dear.” Samuel said, getting himself together.
“There’s a lot to tell you, but you’re safe; so don’t worry.” Levon said, offering a smile. She returned one, calmed by his nature.
“Okay, but why are we in the Altered?” She asked.
Both Levon and his father looked at her, taken aback.
“You’ve been here before?” Levon asked.
“Of course.” She replied, getting to her feet. “It’s where I came from.”
Jess stood there once the clatter and the smoke died away, wondering if it wasn’t all a bit too easy. They had managed to push through the guards and the armed robots which had been surrounding the machine and the top floor. The battle had been swift, with much of the attack coming from Jess and the order. The robots did what they were programmed to do, but the guards had seemed hesitant to really go at them. They had folded quickly, retreating and abandoning their posts relatively easily.
Jess said this to one of the other members, a small woman by the name of Eva.
“I know what you mean, it’s as if they were just going through the motions or something.” Eva said, throwing a robot to one side which had been sparking frantically.
“Are we sure this is the correct machine, or if this is the right place?” Jess asked, to both Eva and the others. They all surrounded the machine now, some of the members dealing with the stray robots which had been whirling and continuing on as the guards had fled. It was Daniel who spoke.
“Yes, this is definitely the machine. But having a look at it now, there isn’t anything set for release.” He said.
“Are we sure the timing is right?” Eva asked. One of the members contacted the temple to check in and to ask them this also, his wrist illuminating. Jess went across to the Pandora machine now. The huge apparatus looked like a giant upside-down wish bone, its two arms pointing up into the air. At its base there was an empty receptacle, presumably where the pathogen would go. It was voluminous, the size of a small hover pod.
“These conductors stimulate the contents and distribute them equally up these wands. The levels have to be equal or the distribution would malfunction here.” Daniel said, pointing to two valves up the sides of one of the wands. Jess could see a strip of little holes like that on a flute, with pressure lights pulsating underneath.
“So with ours mixture, we need to have the correct consistency also, or just for the distribution outward?” Jess asked him, not really sure of the science to it all. She was happy with the magic, and elemental nature which worked in a space she didn’t have to understand. But the nature of science always confused her.
“Both really, they obviously planned for a consistency of equality throughout the release, if it changes as it propels; it will shut down. I guess this was to avoid uneven distribution.” Daniel said. Jess looked at him like a child might, not getting what he was saying. He registered her confused expression.
“It means they were probably aware it was unstable, and they built in a failsafe. It’s good really that they didn’t want to just release something that was not controlled, or what they expected.” Daniel said, looking over the machine further.
“Very surprising from Mr Tsutsumi really.” Eva added, her brow furrowed.
One of the other members walked over to them, speaking to the temple and drawing the others to listen too.
“So we have the other machine, is that correct?” He asked into his wrist where a little image of a head floated.
“We have secured the other site yes, but there is an absence of material.” The little head replied, fuzzing in and out of clarity.
“Same here, we have the machine no problem. But there’s no agent to be seen, or even plans to upload one.” He said.
“Okay, remain with the machine, and let me get back to you as quick as I can. We’ve had some developments here, and we need to know if it’s safe to release the holy water still.” The head said. Jess could make out it was Dr. Winkoski. They all turned and looked at each other, wondering what to do next.
Karen clicked off the call and turned to face Nina, who stood holding two cups of tea. She handed one of them over to her.
“So we have the machines, just no presence of the virus. Were we off with our information, had Aiko not precured his source?” Karen asked her, she blew on the rim of the cup.
“No, it’s not that. We know he has his manufactured agent, and he needed a source from the altered to combine with this. This has been planned for a while. Something must have gone wrong. His encounter with the Pope must have changed things for him.” Nina said, sipping from her own cup.
“Then his plan has shifted since returning, presuming that he did. We don’t really know what took place there.” Karen said.
“No, not entirely. We know he was stopped entering the gates of Asher, but what state the Pope left him in is anyone’s guess. We can’t move forward with our own until he is accounted for. We don’t know what back up plans he has developed, or what reaction technology he may have devised. People like Aiko always have another route to take. We must locate him before we release ours.” Nina said, a worried expression hovering on her face for a moment before disappearing.
“What did he say when you spoke?” Karen asked, referring to the Pope.
“That they were to take Aiko’s family into the altered, and that he would follow. I said we’d buy him some time. We’ve got the machines secured now; we just need to wait to hear from him.” Nina said, looking at Karen in a way that conveyed her thoughts on the Pope’s communication abilities, or lack thereof.
“I see, well he does have Levon with him. Perhaps he will be more communicative.” Karen offered.
“I hope so too.” Nina said, sipping more of the tea, which burnt her tongue.
Levon felt cold there for the first time. Usually in the Altered there was little change in temperature, the atmosphere was always heavy and hung like a humid day, the temperature always warm. But he shivered, the fog swirling around them. He had long ago learnt how to manipulate the surroundings of the world there; the emotions and thoughts usually constructed the space around you. But here now, there was a cold deadness, as if the Altered was no longer receptive, but in a state of sleep. Reduced back to its default it seemed.
“You feel it also?” Samuel asked Levon, noticing him shiver along with Aiko’s family.
“I’ve never known it like this before.” Levon said. The girl before them then spoke.
“It’s trying to repair; something has attacked the fabric of this world.” She said, helping the older woman get to her feet.
“She’s right. Aiko’s darkness had spread too far and wide. When he tried to get through the gates of Asher, he unleased a huge amount of negative energy. The Altered is trying to heal, trying to shift. The test in the Limbo only made things more unbalanced. Like people, it can only take so much.” Samuel said.
“Who are you?” The girl suddenly asked him. She was young, around twelve. Much younger than Aiko.
“I’m Samuel, good to meet you. And this is Levon.” Samuel said, motioning to his son.
“I’m Akari. Thank you for rescuing us. I don’t remember much, but I do remember those horrible tubes in the facility.” She said. Her family were quiet, slowly understanding where they were.
“You’re welcome, and you’re all safe now. But what did you mean that you had come from the Altered?” It was Levon who asked, he had been watching the family; they all seemed relieved to be there and together.
“What do you think I mean? I came from here; it was where I was…constructed I guess you could say.” She said, matter-of-factly.
“You’re a spirit of this place, taken into form?” Samuel asked. The girl nodded.
“Wait, I don’t understand. Are you Aiko’s sister?” Levon asked, clearly perplexed.
The older woman put her hand on the young girl’s shoulder then and spoke.
“You have saved us, and we thank you. This is Ai’s doing, we know this.” She said, her accent heavy with Japanese. Samuel nodded in recognition. The woman muttered something, shaking her head.
“He denies us, he forgets us. He tries to bury us. But we cannot be forgotten.” She said, her eyes alert, betraying her sad, aged face.
“Ai isn’t my brother. I wouldn’t call him my father either, but he was the one who brought me over. I live in both realms, on separate plains.” The girl said, a fragile tinge to her words, yet she stood assuredly.
Samuel turned to Levon.
“Aiko unlocked the essence of spirits here, while exploring the magic. Reversed engineered somewhat. His scientific approach to this place, probably how he tried to understand things. Whenever we want something, we must give something back. He traded part of himself to absorb more of the essence of the Altered. He takes it to a dark place, because he does not know how to handle the power properly. The Altered, being what it is, created Akari here, from his particles.” He said. Levon could see a world of knowledge in his father’s eyes.
“The nice parts!” Akari said, smiling.
“You betcha.” Samuel added, smiling back to her.
“We care for her; we raise her as our own. But she deserves more than what we can offer. We cannot rid ourselves of the SIN which keeps us in place.” The old woman said sadly.
“And Aiko knows all this?” Levon asked?
“Knows and tries to hide. But he can’t be rid of us, or me at least. If I die, Aiko dies.” Akari said.
“You’d think he’d keep you safe, protected somewhat. Not living on the west-side where things are hard and dangerous.” Levon said.
“We live in love there, we survive.” The older woman said, almost defiantly.
“Ai does not know everything that we do, or where I am all the time. I know his movements, and when he is in this place.” Akari said.
“Then you should have known I was stood right over here then.” They heard from a voice over by the bridge. They looked across to see Aiko stood there in his suit, a dark cloud swirling above his head.
“What developments do you think she meant?” Jess said, anxious after the call with Karen.
Eva shook her head, not knowing herself. Daniel was examining the machine further, looking over the controls and the entry module for the pathogen.
“Well, at least we know they can’t release the virus now. That’s something.” She said, she was trying to convince herself more than the others. Something felt off to her.
“But where is it then, our information had them releasing both of them tonight.” Eva added, sharing the concern.
“We need to talk to someone, to get some information. Any of those guards conscious?” Jess asked, motioning to some of the security team they had already fought with.
“Nah, we did too good a job.” One of the temple members said, checking the guards.
Just as he said this, Jess spotted something out of the corner of her eye. Something moved off around the corner of a wall.
“Be right back.” Jess said, hurtling over a fallen robot and heading off towards the movement.
Jess was quick, and the person was slow. She seized Stefan by the back of his neck, spinning him around.
“Gotcha.” Jess said, and he let out a tiny yelp. She marched him back to where the other’s stood, the alarms had finally stopped, and an eerie silence had fallen on the scene.
“Who are you?” Eva asked him as he stood before them and the machine.
“Please, don’t hurt me.” Stefan said, looking around at the others on the floor and the remains of the robots. His suit was a mess, patches of oil sprayed up his leg, and his suit jacket was dirty and torn; a line of blood stained his collar.
“Don’t give us reason to.” Jess said, nudging him with her weapon. “What is happening here, where is the virus you intended to release?” She asked him.
“It’s all gone wrong, it’s all failed. Aiko has gone mad, he’s deranged.” He said. He was not hysterical, more of a defeated man who had his world rocked, and his illusions shattered. He had been brought up in a world where there was a clear system and order to the disapprobation of those with SIN. Aiko had fallen in his eyes, and everything now seemed unclear.
“We know this, but where is the virus?” Eva pressed.
Stefan looked around, as if surprised it was not up by the machine.
“If it’s not here, then the consignments weren’t moved up from the containment sector in the lower levels. We have the laboratories and higher risk units underground. Aiko didn’t ascertain the material from the other place for it to impart with our agent.” He said, letting his head hang.
“So we were right, it’s not set to be released now. We need to check the same at the other site.” Eva suggested.
“What happened to Aiko?” Jess asked Stefan as one of the members began to contact the other team, having been unable before.
“He surprised us, I was trying to save us all really. Keeping his family safe. He’d moved to a mental sphere that I couldn’t understand. His actions were beyond cold, calculated. But when the others took his family, he was enraged. He murdered the doctor, and I barely escaped myself.” Stefan said.
“What others.” Jess asked him, not concerned who the doctor was. Stefan looked more awkward, shifting nervously. Then he sighed heavily.
“We had intercepted some people from that other realm, we had some fatalities but two were kept in stasis. Aiko had plans for them, but they were able to get free. They attacked me and the doctor, before disappearing with Aiko’s family, presumably to that other realm.” He said.
“An old and younger man?” Jess asked, knowing who he meant.
“Yes, one who’s abilities I’ve never seen with such power.” He added.
“And they took them to the Altered? What about Aiko?” Jess asked, hastily.
“He is mad, insane. The things he wants to do now. No one is safe.” Stefan said, clearly shaken.
“But what is he going to do, where is he now?” Jess said, the urgency frantic in her eyes.
“He plans to kill everyone he can, he’s gone to the Altered after them, and he’s bringing back something that will do more damage then these machines ever could.” He shook his head, defeatedly.
Nina had been part of the Order as long as she could remember. As long as there had been injustice there in the city, she and her family had worked tirelessly in countering all the abuse and mistreatment that those smartly dressed others unleashed on them all. Her pockets were deep, and her heart was deeper, and though she had little title within the order itself (she left the organising and structuring to others), she was a cornerstone in the fight for change. She trusted and loved those she worked alongside, offering her knowledge and tutorage to those she hoped could make a difference also. It pained her to see the world the way it was, the way it had been for too long. When casualties began to come, those kidnapped and executed, tortured for their cause; it moved an anger in her that needed to be directed somewhere positive.
With those members working on the science behind the change, and those field operatives who would expedition into the Altered for sources, Nina adopted the role of overseer. She put her own faith in the work of Dr Winkoski, and the lab team based in the temple to come up with something that could change things on a genetic level. Their task was long, and fraught with many setbacks. The Order needed to continue its assault on the deviant minded in the world, and especially the works of Aiko Tsutsumi and Atone industries which were the target of their rage.
Those fallen in this charge did not pass lightly through Nina’s mind. She remembered all those gone, and the latest with those who had died in the recent transporting of Levon and the Pope, and those securing the Pandora machines.
Nina lit the little candles that were encased in red glass in a small alcove in the church above the temple. To the world it was just another church, but to those in the Order it was their sanctuary and headquarters. Their operations ran from beneath St. Patrick’s cathedral. If she would have stepped outside its huge wooden doors, she would have been able to look up and see the looming towers of Atone industries which housed the Pandora machines. Secured now, but which had claimed some members. Though the battles were more muted than expected, the technology of Aiko and his robots were powerful and deadly.
She lit the candles respectfully, bowing her head in a silent prayer for those fallen.
Karen appeared behind her, Nina hearing her shoes echoing off the stone walls as she’d entered the cathedral from their secret door below. She did not turn to her, instead allowing her to come to her side and look at the candles that now glowed and bobbed in the cold night air.
“Too many now, and over the years.” Karen said, referring to the little flames that indicated a life.
“Too many yes, but lost to a cause they believed in, and one that is just.” Nina replied. Her heart was heavy. They were close to something; she could feel that. But there were too many variables in play at the moment for her to be at any peace.
“It will be over soon; our work is coming to an end.” Karen offered, sensing Nina’s sombreness.
“I know, and I have hope for the best outcome. I just wish no others need suffer.” She said, quietly in her calm fashion. Karen understood, she knew how much Nina had lost personally in the fight over the years. They all had really. Nina was such an attuned soul, sensitive to a fault perhaps. It weighed on her heavily, having recruited so many in the past.
“Nina don’t lose hope or sight of what we are doing. This will correct everything, once it’s concluded. Think of all the good that will bring.” Karen said, hoping to lift her spirits.
“Yes, I know. I just hope we’re not too late.” Nina replied.
“What do you mean?” Karen asked her, confused.
“I hope that the people can still be changed, to something better. Their hatred is so ingrained, we do not know the psychology behind what they do. We can change the genetics and their make-up, but their minds and hearts. That I don’t know.” Nina said. Karen thought on this for a moment.
“ I’m sure Samuel will know what to do with that, he always has an idea about things out of the box.” She offered. Nina nodded to her.
“He did, he does. That’s why he has gone to the Altered.” Nina said.
“Then why are you so uncertain?” She asked her. There was a pause before she spoke again, as if caught in the dance of the candle flames.
“Because I fear it will cost him his own life to forward this change, and too many good souls have already fallen.” Nina said. They both remained quiet for a short time, staring at the flames, knowing that the end had perhaps begun.
“What is he going to bring back, what has he gone to get?” Jess asked Stefan, already anxious and now worried about what was happening. Stefan’s breathing was erratic, and it took some time to catch his breath before he answered.
“Before I managed to get away, he told me what he planned to do. He was so cold, detached almost. It was frightening to hear and witness. I knew I was about to die as he’d just murdered the doctor. He came up to me, and I saw it there in his eyes. Those black dead spaces filled with an essence so evil, evil is the only word I can describe it as. He told me his plans had changed, that the machines of god would now be the machines of Satan. He plans to bring a force from the Altered, bathed in this negative cloud that will destroy everything living.” Stefan said, now slumping to the floor.
Jess looked at Eva and Daniel, the other members surrounded him in rapt attention.
“Is this the dark entity that had been polluting the Altered?” Jess asked. Stefan shrugged.
“I don’t know too much about that world. Aiko was very secretive about it all and who had access to the information for his plans. I know he was to secure an essence originally, so I assume this is something similar. But he’s changed, corrupted. His eyes are poisoned by this darkness. I believe he will do anything now to have his revenge, or whatever he views it as.” Stefan replied.
Jess turned to Daniel now.
“Can this be done, over in the altered? Can a force be harnessed or weaponised and brought over?” She asked desperately. Daniel thought a moment. All members had been trained in understanding the Altered and its magical properties. With Daniel’s obvious technical proficiencies, she hoped he would know what Stefan was talking about.
“Well, we all use the magical to some degree as a weapon, but it’s scale is hard to quantify really. In theory he could manifest something from his own darkness if, like this man says; he has been so far corrupted. We know of the darkness there, but it wasn’t able to overcome the Pope’s power in the recent battle. He would need to defuse it into something from there that could be transported back, something of its construct.” Daniel offered, thinking things over.
“Like what, an organic object?” Jess suggested.
“Sort of, but it would need to be multi-layered, able to contain and transition.” Daniel said.
“Like a person.” Jess said, a statement more than a question.
They all turned towards the bridge as they saw Aiko. The dark cloud that swirled above him was like a concentrated tornado, spinning and churning at a furious speed. It drew up into the fog of the Altered like a finger, blended away into the grey and the unknown beyond.
“Ai!” Exclaimed his mother, shocked by both his appearance before them and the sight of her son. His face was gaunt, shrivelled almost as if the cloud above him were sucking his insides out. He held a little green flame in his hand, the same he’d used at the Gates of Asher. They watched and waited to see what he would do. Aiko merely stood there, surveying them all; a hatred leaving him incapacitated it seemed.
“Ah, Ai; so good of you to join us.” Samuel said, in a jovial tone.
“Ai, what have you been doing?” Akari asked him, her eyes wide; perhaps prepared for anything.
Aiko turned, aiming his hand at the bridge. He let out what appeared to the others to be a scream, but to himself was a directed channel of energy. The green fire leapt from his hand, swirling in the black clouds from above and pulverised the bridge and the marker stones. The vaporized particles seemed to hover in their dismantled state for a second, before lifting off into the fog above like sand being tipped away upside down. A fracturing seemed to stem from the space, huge green cracks crawling out across the ground and reaching the others.
“Ai, stop this!” Akari screamed at him. But it did little good. The dark cloud, now energised further by the destruction of the bridge loomed toweringly, sparkling with Aiko’s green magic. He aimed it towards them, directing the force and the power straight at Samuel and Levon.
Levon was as quick as his father, tapping his wrist and uttering a spell. The words had just left his mouth as blackness covered them, washing over like a black tar.
Inside the vortex, a blue light glowed. Faintly at first, but it grew stronger. It thronged and pulsed as Aiko moved forward, closer to his family and Akari who were grouped together cowering from the onslaught before them. The fog of the Altered had peaked upwards, as if blown away by giant lips. A strange lightening storm raged up in the atmosphere now, strikes of green, white and blue punctured the clouds. Spitting and hissing like a giant snake coiling around them.
Out burst the white light which seemed to halt the dark which had attacked Levon and Samuel. It projected outwards, turning the dark matter to globs of stringy ash. Levon aimed his arms towards Aiko, a blue light streaking outwards towards him. But Aiko was quick and unrelenting, he aimed his own power back, slamming hard into Levon’s spell, stopping it in its tracks.
Akari rushed forward, breaking from her family, calling for Aiko to stop what he was doing. That it could all be better, but he must end this.
“It ends with me!” He yelled to her, aiming a strange green and orange fire towards her.
Levon reacted, lunging in her direction to protect her from what Aiko had sent her way. But the glowing fire had split, the green and orange separating. The green part of the spell shot towards Levon as he pushed Akari out of the way. The Orange part however caught her as she fell, encasing her in a strange, almost crystal-like confine.
Her family rushed forward, but Aiko aimed again. He was battling Samuel but managed to fire off further magical elements towards his family. Caught from his previous attack, Levon stumbled, half firing off some elements from his arms which now burned and singed green from the markings which ran up them. He missed his footing but dove with all his might to block the spell which was flying towards Aiko’s family. It collided with him in an array of green and black, and much like the bridge, Levon was broken outward into particles which hovered for a moment before pouring upwards.
“Levon!!!” Samuel yelled. He turned towards his son, but it was too late. In that moment, his own magic enchantment broke, and Aiko’s green and black torrent of cloud pushed him backward.
“All wars have sacrifices.” Aiko said, dryly. His words drifting over the strange landscape which now hung with loss. His family were scared to move, though his mother looked desperate to go towards Akari who was encased in her orange shell.
Samuel was on his knees, but he was not defeated. He spoke directly to Aiko, less tauntingly than previously.
“Aiko, please stop this. No one else need die for this.” He said, his hands out imploringly.
“Everybody needs to die for this. That’s what you don’t understand. I’m done with everything, none of this matters now.” Aiko said, twirling the green flame once again in his hands.
“It’s never too late to change, no one is ever too far gone. Despite what they have done.” Samuel said, casting an eye to where his son just stood.
“You’ve always been the ruler of this kingdom, and what a place to be king of. But look at it now, dead and empty. Just dust and fog. Why do you wish to save all this?” Aiko said, in almost a whisper but it tickled everyone’s ears.
“Because I believe this place can help change the material world and make it a better version then what it currently is. It’s not too late to do that still, with what you know Aiko; you can help also.” Samuel said, earnestly. But the others could see it was in vain.
“I don’t care.” Was all he replied, and he aimed his arms towards him once more.
In that moment The Pope surprised everyone. He leapt up from his space and dove towards Aiko’s family. He muttered a spell as he snaked around them pulling the ground up with his hands. The floor beneath reacted like elastic, moulding upwards to create a dome over them.
Enraged, Aiko fired off his own green flame and cloud once more, but it could not penetrate the forcefield that Samuel had created. Inside the dome, he suddenly produced a bright white flash and a few seconds later the family had vanished, and Samuel stood there as the dome broke away in patches, revealing him once again.
“Noooooo.” Was all Aiko could say as he charged towards him with such fury and anger that he leapt huge strides like a charging beast. The flames and the clouds bellowed forth, the storm raging above seemed to descend towards them in that moment. Samuel once again shot out his bright white light from his arms, the almost divine illumination shone through the dark, piercing it like tiny swords. A Little blue flash popped above his head and flew towards Akari, bursting at the top of her casing and slithering down like a broken egg.
Aiko charged and concentrated his full force towards Samuel, stopping moments before a concentrated pulse of his power emitted outwards and travelled towards him. Aiko dove out of the way of the retaliating magic and landed next to Akari. He muttered some words and dissolved away with her, leaving the space. It all happened in the blink of an eye. His final view of the Altered was of his powerful magic exploding with the Pope who fractured and erupted into a bright white flash. Just like the bridge and just like Levon.
“What the hell is that?” Karen said, staring with Nina at the huge orb that spun and shook in the far corner of the room. They were back down in the temple, having left the topside church area for the more militant and scientific surroundings of their main sanctum.
“Oh my god, look at that.” Nina said, her usual calm voice wavering.
As they stared at the shaking orb, which represented earth, the Altered and everything in between, a violent green light erupted from part of the Altered. The swirling mists and fog of that realm had been blasted outward, like a huge mushroom cloud.
“What is happening?” Nina asked, unsure if an answer could be found. Before Karen could reply, a terrible boom shook the orb, and the point where the light was being emitted seemed to collapse in on itself, sucking up all around it like a monstrous green black hole.
“Something terrible is happening there, what do you think it is?” Nina pressed. Karen looked on, in horror too but with her scientific mind turning.
“My guess is that Aiko has unleashed something, a weapon we don’t know of; and it’s obliterating the fabric of the core structures. Look, that is where the bridge and the markers are.” Karen said, pointing to the orb which was humming and shaking frantically.
“We must do something! What if they’re still there?” She said, referring to Levon and The Pope.
“We can’t send anyone, it’s not safe. Besides, look what it’s doing to the fractom points.” Karen replied.
These were jumper points through to the Altered, over time they had learnt that the world was made up of a membrane of power, or magic across the landscape. These fractom points were how people could get across from this world, these points were congregated hubs that allowed movement. You could leave anywhere in the material realm to get across, but these points were where you would appear on the other side. Nina looked closer; the points stuck up across the globe like little pins. She could see the green glow pulsing through them now, pulling them away from the sphere like nails being pulled up by an invisible hammer.
“Shit. Well, we have to do something, what are our options?” Nina asked, a frantic level in her voice now that Karen had never heard.
“Well, I think our only choice is to go ahead with the Holy water. If Aiko has something planned, then now is our only chance to achieve our goal and hopefully by then it will be too late for him to change anything back. We have to move on and hope Samuel and Levon are okay. They’ll make it back if they can.” She said the last part with a faded hope, perhaps already knowing it was too late.
“You’re right, and we need to warn the others so they’re on their guard. We can’t get anyone over there, it’s too dangerous and unstable like you say.” Nina said, referring to the Altered. “But we can prepare them here.”
“I think it’s time for you and I to get our hands dirty.” Karen said. Nina agreed and they both made their way to where the militant suits and armour were kept.
The light on Jess’s suit began to glow, indicating an incoming call. She scanned her hand over a sensor and a hologram of Nina appeared, emitting from her wrist.
“Jess, how is it there?” Nina asked, Jess could see Karen in the background, suiting up. Nina was busying herself too as she spoke.
“Hey, well we’ve learnt that Aiko plans to bring some sort of weapon over from the Altered. We apprehended his assistant who has told us all he knows. Any news your side?” Jess asked, hopeful.
“Well, that makes sense. There’s been an event over in the Altered, we’ve monitored it from our Obs orb. We have to think the worst Jess, the world seems to be collapsing there. We’re putting the Order on its highest alert and we’re proceeding now with the Holy water. Karen and I are coming to the towers, but we need to move forward as soon as possible with our plan. We can’t wait any longer.” She said. She wasn’t matter of factly at all, in Nina’s way she seemed to convey much depth in her words, and each one struck Jess at different emotional points.
“I see, we’ll get things started then. Was there any word from Levon or The Pope before this event?” She asked, the hope shrivelling on the branch of her stunted sentence.
“There’s been nothing I’m afraid. The world is being engulfed in the green dark magic, there was only a faint flicker of a blue dot; but Karen seems to think this is residual energy from the bridge. It’s all being destroyed Jess.” Nina said, sorrow in her words.
Jess was stunned, not only at learning that she will no longer see Levon again; but that also the world she longed to understand was now collapsing in on itself. Never to be a place that she could go, or one that would be of a benefit for anyone this side of the realm.
“I, I…Can’t believe it. It’s been so quick.” Jess said, almost dazed. Nina could see her pain, but she was quick to act herself.
“Jess, we will have time to mourn and grieve. My heart is equally as heavy. But now we must act, time is a precious thing. I will be there shortly; Karen is heading to the other tower. Please start the preparations with the others.” Nina said, smiling. Letting Jess know that she was not alone, and that there was still some good left to source. Jess seemed to come back from the ledge, her mind returning to the now.
“You’re right, and of course. See you shortly.” She said, and Nina signed off.
The others had heard and seen the conversation and knew what needed to be done. Daniel set about calibrating the machine while others began the transportation of the Holy water. Nina arrived quickly, entering from the roof which had been cleared of all security. It seemed all the robots and security personnel from Atone had stood down, they had not had any altercations since they had secured the floor and the machine, this was mirrored in the other tower as the group there reported. Karen arrived there also swiftly, and they all set about to release the Holy water.
Though the pathogen was prepared, as with the test jess had done with her family, an incantation was also needed which would transfuse the Holy water. The Pandora machines would duplicate and project this out over the city, expanding the reach and infect everyone. It would move through all elements, so no one would be able to hide from it; but the magic and the science it seemed needed the elevated height to mix correctly. As was true for the virus Aiko planned to release. The pulse would flow like a giant egg had been cracked atop these towers, flowing across the city and changing everyone’s lives for good.
The little head of Karen bobbed on Nina’s wrist, her hologram swaying in the wind now that the huge glass doors had been opened and the machine had been pushed outside further. Daniel explained how it sucked the energy particles from the atmosphere like the giant turbines across the city, but few cared at this stage how it worked; just as long as it did.
The pathogen had been poured into the giant chambers, sloshing around like unicorn milk; glowing and changing form like mother of pearl beauty. It was a sight to behold, and as Nina coordinated it with Karen, there was a tense air all around those of the Order now. Years of battling and fighting had come to this moment, so much now rested on these machines.
“Ready when you are.” Daniel said to Nina, who gave the order to switch the machine on. This was done simultaneously at the other tower across the city. They could see it now, the tallest point in the landscape, Aiko’s tower scratching at the sky. Once the machines glowed to life, they could see from their own tower the luminous glow from the other groups Holy water, a giant lighthouse across the skyline.
“Karen, begin the incantation and release the pathogen.” Nina said. Much like Levon had, she had intricate markings on her arms, the powerful tools that bled the magic in this realm. She then rolled the sleaves up and tapped the black forms that peppered her arms. They began to glow blue as she recited, from memory, the incantation as the great machine whirled to life. The contents within churned and hummed, and with a blinding flash, a phosphorus luminescence began to drip out of the huge prongs, slow at first, then with much speed and haste; leaking over the side of the tower and massing in pools frozen in air. As Nina continued her spell, the globbing mass seemed to stretch and thin before crawling out over the city like a giant divine pancake.
The same was happening at the other tower, and when the two masses met, they sizzled with a blue electric before forging outwards into the surrounding areas and smothering everything beyond that the eye could take in.
Nina stepped back, catching her breath. She lowered her arms which she had held up, brought together during the end of the incantation. Instead of drained, she seemed fused with energy and life. Her eyes glistened, the white luminous reflecting like those of the others all around her. Jess too felt a cellular shift inside, like little workers were crawling inside of her, fixing broken pieces, and patching holes. She tingled and smiled, the energy humming in her bones almost lifting her off the floor. They all embraced each other, feeling a connectivity to each around them, a genetic tie and a shared existence as if the same light flowed through their own veins.
Only then, in this euphoric moment of completion did Aiko appear, a swirling cloud of dark mass bursting forth as if spat from a cave.
The Obs orbs were very useful objects, showing the viewer the state of both the Altered and the Material realm at that moment. It dispensed with the surrounding space or indeed the centre, the insides of these orbs revolved on a magnetic field, swirling at the centre like the molten core of the planet. The best example of these was the one Nina had in her library. The one Levon and Jess had sat by not long ago. It was able to be shrunk or expanded, and at this time Nina had left it in an expanded mode, dominating the space.
Currently it was showing the disorder of the Altered as it was sucked in on itself, the green and dark lightening playing havoc on the outer sphere. As the glow from the Pandora machines swept out through the city and surrounding areas, this was shown on the Orb in a delicate white glow, oozing organically across the surface. It was dispensing the dark that had gathered and coiled. A strange thing also began to occur.
The little blue dot which was barely recognisable had begun to shine up through to the material realm. Like a laser pointer, it began to draw a line from the Altered to the Material. Along this line the white glow from the Order’s pathogen began to feed down into the Altered. It crept slowly, like a small spider along the blue line, finally breaking forth and pouring outward towards the black and green hole. The crater left by Aiko which was destroying all there.
The glow fed into this hole, but instead of being swallowed into nothingness, it began to fill it. Spiralling downward until it had eventually stopped the destruction, and then began to lift out of the darkness, coursing over the Altered landscape with a blue and white glow. It seemed to be repairing, restoring and stabilising the space.
Aiko stood like a cobra, huge and ominous. His darkness and use of magic had transformed his body, growing it to twice his usual size. He loomed before them, the hatred and blackness spewing from his eyes. He held before him Akari, one hand menacingly gripped on her shoulder. The girl was not scared though it seemed, there was an awareness in her own eyes, and a movement that seemed to be looking for opportunity.
They all turned to look at him, some members of the order firing off their strange weapons towards him despite the presence of Akari. He flicked his wrist towards these, and a green emittance stopped the shots and disintegrated the weapons which lurched from their grips.
“Ah, the teacher.” Aiko said, but his voice was strange, devoid of any human traits. It echoed sinisterly like a cry inside a cave. They all shuddered, all except Nina who stepped forward towards him.
“Aiko. You have no power here now, your time has past.” Nina said, her commanding yet calm voice almost beating down Aiko’s presence.
“Is that so? Yet here’s me thinking it’s just about to begin. Maybe the teacher is misinformed for a change?” Aiko tauntingly jabbed.
“It’s too late.” Nina said, her eyes darting to the Pandora machines, showing him the Holy water had already been released.
“Congratulations, you took something someone else had done and made it your own. So the pathogen is released, and everyone is changed? Everyone down there in their little expensive beds or flea-bitten coverings are now the same? Too bad it will only be momentarily.” He said, the other hand now on Akari’s shoulder.
“You can stop whatever it is you plan to do now and just remain Aiko. We don’t need to destroy you for us all to win. Can’t you see this way is the very essence of the Altered, the magic?” She asked him. Jess could see it was in vain, and Nina herself knew it was also; but she had to try. Samuel had never given up on him, and she followed his path.
“Enough. Enough of it all; this, you, them. It ends here.” And he began to incant above Akari, who took on a green glow, something taking hold. They all stood back, unsure of what was going to happen. All except Nina who stood firm, her arms coming together, her own magic at the ready. Little blue sparks beginning to bristle from her fingertips. The force seemed to build further and further around Akari, Aiko’s power and hatred, all his darkness manifesting in that innocent body, waiting to explode onto this world.
Sometimes it takes just one action to tip the scales. One little moment to shift the paradigm. The moment Nina aimed her magic towards Aiko, was the same moment that Jess chose to plunge into the breach.
Jess took a run and dove towards Aiko, knowing she might take the force of his power that was building in Akari. She did not close her eyes in one last desperate act, but instead flung full force into him with her eyes peeled back. Nina had released her own magic, her own generation of positive power which launched towards Aiko and impacted just as Jess made contact. It short circuited the connection he had made, sparking off in jets of green and blue. As Aiko tumbled back with her, Akari seized her own moment, now fuelled with his strength. She connected to the essence of the holy water, touching it like the ‘creation of Adam’, gentle moments which begot such wonder.
As the explosion of light blinded them all, a powerful silence captured the moment, halting their heartbeats there in time for those few seconds. The power of the magic, and that of the human heart seemed to reach up and the touch infinite, washing over everything.
SIN first appeared in the city in the guise of poverty, the weakened condition against the affluent. Cases were initially put down to malnutrition, poor hygiene and terrible living conditions. The age was presented with such a vast gap between the affluent and the poor, that sanitation, health care and all manner of civil services benefitted those least needing of them. A virus began to spread in the lower end of the populace, weakening them and forcing them to become more physically dependent on services.
It didn’t take long for those in power to descend on this arising circumstance and to manipulate it. Screenings were made mandatory, and a classification of conditions were regulated. The virus worked fast, spreading through at a rapid speed, almost like a plague from God. It changed people in an instant, forcing them into lives that they would not be able to break free from. For those smartly dressed souls who seemed resigned in their reason and status, their lives seemed to be validated by this new wave coursing through the land. Almost justifying what they always knew.
The Altered, a place of such wonder, was the harbinger of all this darkness. A place that offered such goodness and possibilities gave birth to something so maligned. In an allegoric tern, it was the fact that something so good released something so terrible perhaps to show that people could overcome darkness. It was the Altered that set forth SIN into the material realm. Not wantingly, but by the malpractice of those going in and out of the world and not understanding completely what they were doing. SIN came from a mishandling of the magic, set free and loose from a mind that did not understand what it was doing.
But in the poison, so in lies the cure.
When the light had finally faded, and the scene before them came into view once more, they all stood there unsure of what to do. Jess had tumbled back with Aiko, taking a hit of both his and Nina’s magic. When Akari had run and touched the Holy water, the reaction had catalysed everything in the vicinity, surging through her and Aiko. Akari lay on the ground by the Pandora machine, and Nina and Daniel went across to her as Jess shook herself to, sitting up and piecing things together. Aiko lay on the floor, his eyes closed. He was no longer the huge entity that had fled from the Altered. He was once again his usual size. Little sparks of white light snapped about him, like the aftermath of an electrocution.
“Jess, are you alright?” Eva asked, coming over to her now and helping her up. Jess nodded, her head still raging with an odd static sensation.
“Yes, I feel fine. Great even, just my mind is swirling like duelling dragons in there.” Jess said, seeming to shake her head as if the beasts would fall from her ears. They both looked at Aiko on the floor, the little lights emitting from him.
“What about him?” Eva asked, nudging his feet with her boot. Nina walked over to where they were now. They could see Daniel and the other members of the order going to where Akari stood, light also still emitting from her.
“Are you okay?” Nina asked, her tone calm yet concerned.
“Yes, yes I’m fine. Really. That was something though.” Jess said.
“Your bravery indeed is something Jess, amazing.” She said, putting her hand on her back tenderly.
Aiko began to stir, his head that was lulled backward began to move from side to side until he opened his eyes. He looked around for a moment, then pushed himself up, sitting still before them.
“What is going on here?” He asked, groggily.
The others looked at one another, before Nina spoke.
“A lot is going on here Mr Tanaka.” She kneeled down to him, looking directly into the eyes which once were black and dead. They now swirled with a different light, a human window to his soul.
“Tanaka?” He said, quietly, puzzled over that word for a moment. Then he looked across to see the machine, and the order members. On spotting Akari, it was as if a realization had been set loose in his blood.
“Oh god.” He said, his head falling forward as if in shame.
“Aiko, it’s over. Everything is going to be fine.” Nina said, and she too put her hand on his shoulder, comfortingly.
“But, I…” He began, but stuttered off, shaking his head.
“Come, we all must leave now. This place has done what it was meant to, but now it is time to leave.” Nina said, and she helped Aiko up with the help of Jess.
Outside of the building, the divine light from the Holy water was ebbing away in the distance. The streets and the city below them shimmered as if it had been scrubbed clean and bathed in celestial bleach. They took their leave, making their way back to the temple, Karen’s team following; leaving the pandora machines where they stood.
Akari had been the key it seemed; she was the one that had been able to turn the dark to the light. Though they had successfully released the Holy water and changed the city forever, it was because of her that Aiko had been subdued. Once back at the temple, they were all able to take stock of the event.
Karen set about monitoring the effects the pathogen was having on the city, flashes of screens and machines flooded her lab with data. Other members saw to helping those hurt in the battle and arranging for everyone to be taken care of and comforted. It was a member of the order by the name of Sally who discovered them. She had gone to get some additional medical supplies from one of their containment units and had stumbled across the Tanakas. They were asleep at the back of the unit, huddled together but safe
Nina learned from them, once they were woken and had joined the others, that they had appeared in the temple when the events in the Altered had climaxed. With a flash they had been expelled, and sent to the temple, landing unceremoniously in one of the storage units. Dazed and bewildered, and scared for what was happening; they had remained there where it was safe. It seemed once the pathogen had been released, it had plummeted their energy levels after their transition, inducing sleep.
Aiko had embraced his family when they had entered the room. He and Akari hugged them, tears coming easily and copiously to all the eyes of the Tanakas. Anyone suspicious on Aiko’s change needed only see how he greeted his family to know that a paradigm had indeed shifted. Not only was he changed, it seemed he’d reignited the empathy within him that he had tried so hard to exorcise.
Nina looked on, seeing how Akari and Aiko embraced their family. Akari was the key, the siphoned off bits of Aiko that he thought he could control, but what was made in the Altered seemed to overflow into the material realm. She had indeed magnified Aiko’s power and magic, but he had not counted for the goodness and reasoning that was still apart of him, and prevalent in her. Though the light was tiny in regards to the overwhelming darkness he wielded, the tiniest candle it seemed would always banish the deepest dark. She looked at her now and smiled, knowing that hope was always worth having.
“So how did the Tanakas get back here?” Jess asked, coming to stand with Nina. She was happy, a sense of elation not abating inside of her. Nina thought for a moment, looking over to the happy embraces of the family.
“I guess it was The Pope, he must have tried to save them in the final moments.” She said, smiling.
“He must have known more about the Altered then anyone, knowing how to use it.” Jess offered.
“Indeed. Unlike Aiko who sought to control the power, Samuel always respected and understood the power and the magic of the Altered. It was like he took such blessings from merely being able to caretake the magic, He always use to say…..” But what, Jess never did find out. “I need to check something.” Nina said, touching her slightly on the arm and disappearing away.
Jess was stood alone only for a short moment, before Eva came to talk and help her process all the events. They were both happy, and proud of what they had accomplished. Both their fights had occupied their lives for years, much as everyone’s had in the order. Jess now not only had something to be happy and proud of, but she had a sense of belonging too. Her tribe, so to speak. And her thoughts turned to her own family, hastily making a call to them.
It wasn’t long for Nina to find Karen. She was sat down in front of a huge holographic screen, numbers and images flashing in front of her, the glow of which dousing her in a ghostly blue light.
“All good I’m hoping?” Nina said, coming over to her friend. Karen looked up and greeted her with a smile, one of relief and elation.
“I can’t belief this data. Well, I do believe it but it’s beyond what we had hoped for. Everything seems to be stabilised, all persons seem to be responsive. The was a cluster expansion in the west side, understandably, but the readings are off the charts. SIN is gone, it’s evolved into the best-case scenario.” She said, beaming.
“Wonderful, that’s such good news. It was as we hoped then?” Nina asked.
“And more, we can’t tell from the data the emotive responses from individuals naturally, but the cognitive recalibrations would suggest a higher state of empathy.” Karen said, scanning through a diagram before her.
“So people will give a shit more then?” Nina said with a grin.
“You better believe they will. And it’s about time. Nina, this is it. We did it!” Karen said, her eyes on the brink of welling. Nina stood forward and hugged her friend deeply. It had indeed been a long battle, with many casualties along the way. But it seemed that everything was worth it..
“So, Samuel…” Nina said, as she and Karen broke apart.
This shook Karen’s smile.
“The greatest loss.” Karen said.
“Maybe not. Jess just reminded me something he said once, about the magic and the Altered. There’s so much really with all this and what has happened, and no one is an expert. Except maybe you now.” Nina said. Karen brushed the comment aside humorously. “Samuel once said to me that we needed to embrace the death of death, that because things are always an illusion here in the material realm, nothing is what it seems.”
Karen began to shake her head.
“I know where you’re going, but it’s not possible. It happened in the Altered, there was no illusion there. He used to speak of things moving to stages, how we are all the same underneath really; and that when things die, they merely move on to something else. There is proof with the science, how atoms don’t die but reassemble. Death is an illusion I suppose. But Nina, this happened over there. The same as Levon. They’re gone I’m afraid.” She said, sombrely.
“I know it happened there, but that’s what makes it odd to me. I’ve been Levon’s teacher for years now, I know his level of magic and the gift he had. It was borrowed from there; it came by way of his father and the unlocking that was done for him. But Karen, Samuel came from the Altered. ‘’To it, he shall return!” She said, almost urgently, adding. “The blue light….”
Karen looked at her, realisation slowly spreading across her face.
“The light we saw, of course. Things from the Altered don’t ever die, they realign on the basis of consciousness.” Karen said, a new light dancing in her eyes now.
“He’s waiting.” Nina said, almost silently as if to utter it, might undo it.
FIVE YEARS LATER
Jess crossed to the midway section of the road as a huge gleaming tram silently slipped by her. The car was full, the people inside in good spirits as the sun beat down and called them to the sea. A boy inside waved to her as it passed, and she waved back, chuckling to herself. She crossed over to the beach side of the road. The tram stopped some way up and lots of people disembarked, heading to the sands and the refreshing waters of the bay. The day was hot, the temperature had climbed to record levels the past few months, signalling alarms across the city and the state that the climate had begun to turn on them.
Jess walked up a bit further, being sure to put some distance from herself and the masses. Despite the weather, she wore her army jacket, the green fatigue blending into the palms that she passed which punctuated the shoreline. Whereas before the pristine beach area was an ordered place of affluent control, since the great change the beach fronts had opened up to more creative expression and controlled chaos. Little areas now pocketed themes and cultures, with an eclectic mix of fusions and tastes. Jess made her way along the path, past a community hub which seemed to be having an outdoor art exhibition. Canvases and works peppered the boardwalk, where eager eyes were enjoying the artistic flares and social gathering.
She saw her brother Den first, then Akari, sat on a bench with a huge palm above them, shading them from the sun. Their spot looked out over the beach, elevated slightly as it looked down onto the sand and out into the bay. She knew this spot was good, as it gave an excellent view to the peninsular where you could see the lighthouse and marine club where the sailboats would dock.
“Hey guys.” Jess said reaching the bench.
“Hey, he’ll be back any second…” Akari had said, but just that moment Aiko came walking around the palm from the other direction that Jess had come.
“Hey! Speak of the devil.” Jess said, embracing him. He hugged her back, carefully trying to hold the ice creams away from her weather defiant jacket.
“Good to see you, do you want one of these?” He asked her, handing both of the ice creams over to Den and Akari, little spots of the red and white dripping then blotching the floor beneath.
“I’m fine.” She said, smiling. “You guys been waiting long?”
“No, not really. We took the tram down together, but we’ve only been here about five minutes.” Den said, already tucking into the ice cream before it melted into nothing.
“Shall we head up the beach then?” Jess offered, and they agreed, getting up and making their way down onto the warm sands.
“How have you been?” Jess asked Aiko. Den and Akari were off in front, drifting down to the water where the tide was slowly throwing itself against the shore quietly.
“Really good, it’s been busy this year so far but we’re making some headway I think.” Aiko said. He looked refreshed, and content. Gone were the deadened eyes of apathy, in their place were little coffee coloured pools which seemed to absorb the light from all around.
“The legislations have made it easier i imagine. It was surprising that so many wanted to forget the past.” Jess said, the sand sinking easily beneath her feet.
“I think everything came so quickly to everyone, back at the change. They were so fundamentally moved and disgusted with how they had been living and allowing. That goes for me also. It seemed everyone wanted to throw it all away and start again.” Aiko said.
“Oh yeah I know, they wanted to get rid of St. Patrick’s remember. Anything that reminded them of the old ways. It took a lot to convince them.” Jess said.
“Well, Nina still holds a lot of sway.” Aiko added, smiling. “But yeah it was hard to keep anything, and from Atone too, to show them all that there could be some good salvaged from all of it.” They watched as Den and Akari splashed in the water, the ice creams already consumed, part of Den’s washed out to sea.
“Well, I’m glad things are better now. We have to remember what we’ve come from; we can’t remove the uncomfortable for ease of minds. I think a lot comes out of guilt, but it won’t help to erase the struggles, nor should they. I’m glad the Towers have been preserved.” Jess said.
“Have you been there since they opened?” Aiko asked, referring to his two towers where the Pandora machines were stationed.
“Not yet, I said I would with Eva and Daniel, it will be interesting to see them as museum pieces.” Jess said.
“I still can’t believe it all to be honest. Part it feels like a surreal dream that I merely watched. I can’t mentally take myself to the place that I was the cause of it all.” Aiko said.
“It’s probably best not to, the past doesn’t offer you a future, or any of us. What happened needed to, without it we wouldn’t have what we have now. This understanding, this fairness. This was what we all worked to get.” Jess said to him, adding. “Well, you were a little late to the party.”
“Better late than never.” He said.
“Exactly. You were there to show that people can change, that things could be so different. Not just inside the genes but in their minds. It’s not perfect, it never will be. But we are all collectively moving forward with a shared consciousness now.” Jess said.
They walked on a bit more, going down to the shoreline and kicking some of the water playfully at the others. The beach was busier now, the heat and the time of the day luring people like a siren’s song.
“Your technology will have to find a way to sort this heat out you know.” Jess said, wiping her forehead.
“Well you aren’t really dressed for the day.” Aiko added back, pointing to her jacket.
“I go everywhere with this jacket; it’s brought me luck.” She said, and just as she was pulling at the cuffs, a beeping sound came from her left one. “Excuse me a second.” She said to Aiko and slid her finger across a sensor on her watch. Nina’s face popped to life, faded in the midday sun which shone through the hologram.
“Hey Nina.” Jess said, greeting her friend.
“Ah, you’re with Aiko. Good. Hi to you both.” Nina said, spotting Aiko. He returned her greeting cheerfully.
“Hope you’re both well, nice day to be at the beach.” She said, friendly.
“Wanna come down here? It’s a little busy but still nice.” Jess offered.
“Well, I would, but there is something here at the Temple which has taken my attention.” She said, mysteriously.
“What is it?” Jess asked, curiously. Aiko looked on too.
“You both know the Altered’s protection order allows it to complete it’s recovery without any interference. It’s taken longer than we thought, but it’s finally getting there.” Nina said.
“It has been much longer than I thought it would need, or anyone would’ve supposed. Thank god it was able to repair though.” Jess said.
“The fractom robots should show recovery levels and produce a completion timeframe.” Aiko added, having provided the technology to monitor all aspects of the Altered from a far.
“Yes, of course. They have been a treasure. It’s just, with the near completion of the recovery, we have had a bit of a discovery this morning.” Nina said.
“I hope a good one.” Jess added.
“Oh, I would say the best kind. In the realms of religious metaphor, it would be of a resurrection kind.” Nina said, and they knew what she meant.
“The Pope?” Jess asked.
“We think he’s back.” Nina said, a smile seeming to escape the bonds of the holograph and capture both of those looking on. Covering them in sparkling fashioned happiness.