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 S.I.N 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 your were or how your cells formed and grew. She had be 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.
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 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 a quiet for a bit, thinking over what he 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 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.” 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 S.I.N 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 were continued in the books. How many of those books continued stories of hope, of overcoming? She turned to face both Levon and Nina.
“I think I know just the people.” Jess 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 descended upon him, blotting him out entirely. Something kept the fog at a distance however, a little green flame in his hand 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 we 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, definitely.
“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 the page. 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 him. 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.
The world had changed, and not for the better. As the years tumbled into the next, different generations had accepted the disparity between those with and those without S.I.N. They had grown accustomed to the hierarchy, where those smartly dressed betters were financially, intelligently and genetically superior. S.I.N produced no outwardly physical difference, yet it left a lasting trace over the lives of those with it. The change was swift and brutal. Humanity was put up on the shelf for later while this new world grappled with the gulf of difference, allowing it to be filled with years of pent up racism, discrimination and an endless lists of phobias which were now all legitimised. A caste system emerged that everyone now subscribed to, for God had made it all this way. Supposedly.
People now accepted how things were, and those at the top gave no thought to changing things. Why would they, they were supreme. Shuffling to and fro in their lives with all the abundance at their disposal.
The three of them watched them now, the inhabitants of the city, rushing about in the streets below from the vantage point of the library. A huge glass wall jutted out on one side of the room, scrapping its glassy finger into the city air beyond the walls; giving a balcony view down into the city. Jess watched the people in their finery, hopping aboard Tsutsumi transportation and disappearing off around the city streets or into tunnels which lead to other caves of wonders beneath the pavement.
Levon and Jess had followed Nina into the huge library, its feel quite different from the almost tropical room before. It was a library in the sense of books stacked high in huge bookshelves, some of which curved over at the top, transporting their precious contents over in gravity defying suspension above their heads. In the centre of the room a huge glass orb seemed to drip upwards from the glass floor, a perfect sphere which hummed and glowed with a translucent blue and green light. Jess at first thought it was just a globe of the world, but looking at it further she realised it was more than that. At the centre there was indeed the world, as she knew it, surrounding it however were layers of dimensions, each were encapsulating a new landscape which flowed and moved like bits on a chess board. Swathes of mist and vapour moved around these other levels, and Jess knew then what she was looking out. It was the Altered, a dimensional representation of the other world which, according to the moving diorama before her, surrounded the world.
Nina offered them a seat on the half-moon chairs that surrounded the globe and went to a small drinks trolley that stood by a huge hologram that displayed famous images from literature, changing every few seconds. She returned with some drinks for them and sat down next to Jess.
“Please forgive the somewhat half-baked reception, ideally I would show you around more Jess and be more forthcoming about this place and what we do. I no doubt presume you’ve been told most things by Karen and Levon here, but there are many levels to the order and many many things regarding the Altered and the magic which, I’d wager, you’d be keen to know.” Nina said. She spoke quietly, yet firmly. An underlying strength concealed in her soft quiet words.
“Jess knows enough I’d say. The best knowledge is practice and she’s already been baptised now. She’s been to the Altered already, and if I may speak for her; she’s keen to get to work.” Levon said, looking surprisingly timidly from Jess to Nina.
Jess nodded in agreement. Something about Nina made her crave her good approval or good graces.
“Well, to work then we must get. For there is much to do.” Nina replied, taking a sip from her own glass. The pink liquid within stained the rim before melting back down into a diamond pink glow in the bottom.
“We know what Aiko has planned, and the two points in the city in which he intends to unleash the virus. Now it’s easy enough, relatively speaking, to stop him. We have the agents and means to do so. We also know his plan and timeline, so we can orchestrate our own in which to combat his. I see two problems right now. ” Nina said.
“Just two?” Levon asked.
“Come now Levon, as your teacher I know your abilities. Stopping a crazed super-villain would be a walk in the park for you.” Nina replied.
“Well, now that I have my trusty sidekick too.” Levon said, cheekily.
“I don’t think so.” Jess added tautly.
From a bookcase on the far side, a seismic shudder seemed to reverberate from the selves. Jess looked over to the case. Old books were stacked upon it, but there was something different about them.
“It seems the Altered is becoming impatient.” Nina said, referring to the books which now began to ooze a vapour. Dark spots also appeared on the globe in front of them, small patches of shadow like a bruise on a peach seemed to swell and dissipate around the sphere.
“This is one of the problems. The Altered has been infected too much by Aiko’s presence. It has unbalanced the very fabric there, and it too must be cleansed. Now, if we can stop Aiko; we assume that the darkness won’t grow any further. We need to cleanse it, and restore it to what it was. That’s where you come in Levon.” Nina said, looking at Levon earnestly.
“Yep, one step ahead of you. I figured that’s what I would be called upon to do.” Levon said.
“It’s your abilities that we need to stop the corruption in the Altered, but we need to make sure Aiko’s access and interference has stopped. We need to revoke the magic he has tainted.” She added.
“So we need to intercept him and his plan, replace the agent with our own and then cleanse the Altered?” Levon asked.
“Yes. That’s the long and short of it.” Nina replied.
“So what’s the second problem?” Jess asked, her own drink now empty. She put the glass down on a small glass table at her side.
“The second problem is, as Karen no doubt told you, that our own pathogen is not yet ready. If we swap it with Aiko’s then we risk doing similar damage to his own.”
“Then why don’t we just wait? Stop him releasing his and wait until the cure is fully ready? What’s the rush?” Jess asked.
Levon turned to Nina also, curious to hear her answer.
“I agree we should, and would if we things weren’t so unpredictable. But this might be our only chance to release our cure, as you put it, on a mass scale with the aid of Aiko’s technology.” Nina replied.
“What do you mean? Once we have it, we can use it at our own conveyance.” Levon said.
Nina shook her head.
“As dangerous and deranged as Aiko is, and as extensive as our own enterprises is, we don’t have his resources or indeed technology. We’ve tried with our own trials and transmutation machines. They just don’t cut.” Nina said.
Levon looked angry, his brow furrowed and he looked at the floor as if some answer lay there. He went on.
“But why the rush, can’t we just keep the technology once we acquire it?” Levon said.
“Ideally yes, but our sources indicate that Aiko has systems in place that suggest that once compromised they will become inoperable.” Nina said with a sigh.
“A self-destruct. We are in a movie aren’t we?” Levon said with frustration.
“I understand your reasoning though. I agree that we do things on our own time-frame. But it has been escalated and this may be our only chance. If the Altered can’t be cleansed, and the damage done by Aiko is irreparably, then we won’t have more chances. It’s now or never.” Nina said.
“So that is quite a problem. What’s the solution?” Jess asked.
Nina took a moment, looking into both their eyes, almost scanning for understanding.
“Well Jess, the solution hopefully resides with you on this one.” Nina replied.
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. I 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, reprimanded or cautioned. Nina’s expression did not lend to any interpretation, her features stood like a carved stature, 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 her 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 rain-forest behind and entering what Jess could only call a library. The likes of which she had never seen before in her life.
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 S.I.N.
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 citizen 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 loose. 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.
There is a delay this week for the new Smartly dressed violence entry. The next installment will be the 11/07. Until then, feel free to remind yourself of the story so far:
The sun had stopped shining now, the wind that had blown in from the east seemingly extinguished 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 dived 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……
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, life and love. But it was not a happy ending, for it was never the end for them, only one. Robbed so quickly out of the material realm. The science that bubbled under their skin had more ways to poison than just S.I.N. 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 S.I.N 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’s 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 S.I.N, as you’re aware. We’re working on something which will rapidly expunge S.I.N 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 S.I.N in subjects and evolve their genetics beyond to what we have at the moment.” Karen said.
“So, you have a tonic that cures and 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 S.I.N, 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 kills 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.
“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 S.I.N, 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.”
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 funneled 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 S.I.N which had run throughout his structure. This he hide 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 S.I.N 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 fueled 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 S.I.N 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 S.I.N, 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 S.I.N 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 S.I.N 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 in 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.
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 own and families circumstance. 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 her help her and change her circumstance. Coming across the likes if 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 travel 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 feels?” 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 entrance-ways 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 dong 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 wall and tapping the blueprints that were pinned to the board.
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 S.I.N 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 S.I.N; 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 on the solely on reversal of S.I.N in afflicted individuals, but the elevation of all human cells. We’re looking at what S.I.N 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 S.I.N 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 each of them. Karen knew Levon’s circumstance, and she knew too of the likes of Jess. Soldiers in a war fighting with only have 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 small book from her lab coat pocket, followed by a small viral; 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. 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.
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 hide. Oh 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 these sites.”
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 A.I’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 myself 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 systems 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, confidentially. 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 precious hymn book.
“Is not your concern.” Aiko said. And with than, Stefan nodded and turned to depart, leaving Aiko alone in the room which began to glow a faint blue behind him.
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, S.I.N 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, he 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 warrant of changing. How are you any different from the others, or the likes of Akio?”
Karen let her speak, understanding of her compliant. 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.
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.
“You think that will work?” Levon asked, his face subduing tiny flickers of hope.
“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.
“Fine, but we’re not going there. You want my help, then I need 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. The 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 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.
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 S.I.N, 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 form 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 loosed 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’s 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, straighten it.
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. Sweet 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.
“Oh 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 S.I.N 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.
“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 necessity. Accompanying the chairs and television set, only a single bookshelf gave any peak to a character. No photos or artwork adored 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.
What a conjuring word. The sins of our for-bearers. 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 prison to who you are. A ‘S.I.N’ 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 ‘S.I.N’ 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 we now validated by they 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 ‘S.I.N’. 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 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.
‘S.I.N’ 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 ‘S.I.N’ 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 ‘S.I.N’. 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.
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 yet.
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 and place 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.