WARS: Death and Doubling Cubes
A Novella by James Wylder
Special thanks to Josephine Smiley for helping me write chapter 4, as well as creating the Hypercube family with me, Jordan Stout for coming up with the name "Cube2Hypergang" to begin with, Dave Koon for running such a fine game that I wrote a Novella set within it's confines, and to everyone whose WARS characters I've used and adapted for the purposes of telling this story. Without you guys I'd be writing stories in a bottle, with you our stories take on new meanings together. Thank you so much for all of your imaginary people, I hope you enjoy mine. -Jim
1. Backgammon Kate: The Next Generation
2. The Son of the King of Webs
3. A Game of Murders
4. Anya Hypercube’s Day Out.
5. Memnoric Devices
6. Four Chess Games
7. A Desolation of Hypercubes
8. Cubic Families
9. An Aegenor amongst him
10. All Aboard the Moopet of Space!
11. Mordred’s Lullaby
12. The Last Mind in the Hallway
13. Roller Derby Queen
14. The Doubling Cube
15. The Good Sin
A brief Prelude:
This story begins after a lot of things, and in the middle of others. A long time ago, Jhe Sang Ki, better known by his handle Kalingkata, and his frenemy Chess Mistress Hex shoved the Poison Pill Backgammon Kate off of a catwalk onto her very timely death. It also begins after Radical Doitzel killed the Gambler, and took his cunning throne, as well as handed it over to Chess Mistress Hex like a drunken frat boy. Then everyone banded together and beat back the Shi from taking over Gongen, and things were good, mostly good, at least. And Kalingkata married Hotaru Kowano, and they had five children, including their youngest, whom Sang Ki named Aladdin, much to his wife’s chagrin, but it was better than naming the kid Ziggy.
Then Doitzel became God-King Emperor in another Galaxy, and hopped back over from there with an army to take over our pretty little solar system. That was kind of a bad day, and a bad day that the children of the heroes of the last war had to deal with, which included Jhe Aladdin.
And really, this story is about Aladdin, but it’s also about Kalingkata’s personal assistant, Backgammon Jenny, and it’s really not worth telling you the story without telling you about her.
Chapter 1: Backgammon Kate: The Next Generation
Kalingkata stepped into the elevator, and held up his hand to give the guard a high five. The guard stood stoically. He held the pose like that for about a minute.
“I’m wearing you down Xi Greg.” His companion stepped into the elevator, “he’s never going to sir.”
“How would you know? Do you know Greg? Have you ever gone down to see Hoshi before?”
He had her there. “No.”
“Exactly,” Kalingkata looked at the wall. He figured out the exact speed the elevator was moving, judging by the disturbance of particles caused by the g-dampeners. It was faster than usual.
“Shouldn’t we be working? Why are we seeing an AI, even a planetary one right now?”
“I haven’t stopped working.”
He hadn’t. Other men’s minds withered with time. Kalingkata’s had blossomed. As they stood there he continued the running calculations he’d been working for exactly how energy from the zero-point layer of the universe was pulled through into our own. They were quite possibly the most complex thing anyone had ever tried to calculate, and Sang Ki loved it; he hadn’t been challenged like that in years. And yet, he thought better while he was talking.
That was the real secret to why he never shut up.
“Hey, Greg, did I ever tell you the story of how I met my assistant here?”
Greg stared stoically at the elevator doors.
“Great! Then it will be new to you. It’s an adventure, and it involves me and the Gambler killing someone, and meeting her afterwards. It’s great fun.”
“Not this again.”
“So, it all started when….”
* * *
Aladdin kicked his heels against the swivelly chair he was sitting in aboard the “Spider from Mars”, his Dad’s flagship. He wondered if you could really call 3 Gongen battleships, a few Earther cruisers, a clone of the Muppet of Time, and all the various tiny ships the Nest usually had was really a “fleet”, but he didn’t tell his Dad that. His Dad only called it that so he could tell the weird lady he ate Kebabs with he had one, and stick his tongue out. His mommy was nearby, reading a book.
“Did you pack your grenades honey?”
“I don’t really think I’ll need them.”
“Sang Ki. Come on. When would bringing grenades hurt?”
“You’re right. As usual.” His dad chucked some grenades into a satchel, and leaned over to kiss his mother. Kissing was weird, he wasn’t sure why his parents did it so much.
His dad walked over and tossed his hair, “I’ll see you in a little bit little Jhe.”
“Are you seeing Hexie daddy?”
“Yep, only we won’t be eating kebabs today.”
“What will you be eating?” His dad paused.
That answer puzzled Aladdin, but Sang Ki left him with it, as he affixed his helmet, and headed to the airlock. It was time to do something stupid, and Kalingkata couldn’t wait. Stupidity is the only thing the breaks up the monotony of knowing everything. As the airlock sealed itself, and the ship rotated into the correct position, Sang Ki took a deep breath, then realized it really wasn’t necessary since he was in a space suit and was going to be dropping from orbit in a moment.
“You could just take a shuttle sir.”
“Really it wouldn’t be an inconvenience…”
“SHUT UP! I’m jumping from a space ship, it gives me the element of surpr-“
The hatch opened, and the air and a single body vented from the port into the blackness of space, which soon became the thin atmosphere of Titan. Sang Ki’s limbs flailed for a moment, the edges of his suit looking almost on fire, and the ground was starting to look very large, and then he moved his body into position, his chest down, his arms like wings, and he seemed to flutter down like a lead lined feather, onto a solid metal dome. The suit dampened the impact to nearly nothing, and the magnets in his shoes and gloves stuck him to it like a fly, a panting, sweating, fly.
“That was a terrible idea.” He muttered, clanking his way to an entry hatch, which he hacked open, and dropped into with a seamlessness not expected of a man who had just fallen straight from orbit onto a metal ball. The drop was actually more uncomfortable then the one from space, as the suit didn’t dampen the very minor fall, and Kalingkata legs ached a bit. He got up and began staggering. There wasn’t any time to waste, after all, Hexie could get herself killed, and then he wouldn’t have anyone to play chess with.
The alarms were naturally silent, and Kalingkata needed to find the intruder, the one Hex hadn’t seen coming. He was so going to be giving her shit about this for years. Kalingkata threw his helmet off and let it clatter along the floor.
“Kalingkata!” a voice yelled over the intercom, “are you in here?”
“Yeah, I’m here, I bet you’d rather be elsewhere though.”
“The doors are jammed!”
“Did you try hacking them?”
“Shut up Mr. Jhe.”
“Shut up Miss-“ a hissing sound came over the intercom.
“I think she’s venting the room.”
“I’ll be there soon.”
Kalingkata ran, ran a whole twelve feet until he reached a wall terminal, and got into the system. The Hacker had been clever, waited till Hexie was in a room without wall terminals for security reasons, and jammed all the doors. “Clever girl,” he muttered as though there was a dinosaur nearby.
She was good, but she was no Kalingkata. He shut off the venting. He opened the magnetic locks on the doors. Unfortunately she’d sifted the power from the track rails that moved the doors, probably physically, and they’d all have to be opened manually. Fun. From the looks of it, most of the base had been gassed… Non-lethally. He noted that. This girl was good.
Hexie was still trying to pry the door open when Kalingkata got there. Luckily, Kalingkata had a crowbar. Unluckily, he wasn’t any stronger than Hexie. The two of them slowly forced the door open, straining their muscles, Hexie’s brow forming beads of sweat she rarely would show.
“I have my own crowbar you know.”
“You should have brought it.”
“It’s mounted!” the door was open enough Hexie could slide through, and she did, the metal doors ruining her extremely expensive clothes as she squeezed through, popping buttons and ripping bits away. Hexie looked a bit awful, there clearly hadn’t been much air in the room.
“We need to move.” She nodded, and with a hand on Sang Ki’s shoulder started walking, about three steps till Sang Ki stopped, and she stopped, and she looked up to see a young lady in a red and green plaid poodle skirt, knee high socks, and black turtleneck shirt, with her brown hair in a ponytail, and a gun in her hand.
“Chess Mistress Hex, and Kalingkata. Cartel and the Nest all in one basket,” she spit her words out, like she was addressing the prince and princess of hell. “I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you two. And finish the job my mother started.”
Hexie raised an eye brow. So did Sang Ki. In a moment like that, a person only has two choices, 1. Ask the person to explain what is already clear, but was still very vague. 2. Just awkwardly blurt it out. I suppose they could also run away, or talk about eggs, but that just silly.
“Backgammon Kate reproduced? She had sex? With a human?” Hex blurted out.
“My mother was a better woman than you’ll ever be!”
“Did you meet her? Oh… haha, sorry, I guess you never did!” The girl almost fired, but Kalingkata raised a hand.
“Now there, what’s your name?”
“Backgammon Jenny, you son of a bitch. And don’t you forget me.”
“I don’t usually forget poodle skirts, though I would if you shot me in the head.”
He stepped closer, “Now, why don’t we deal with this like civilized folk. You clearly are a mental Kizen.”
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are.”
“No I’m not!”
“Yes you are! Bowie in heaven, I tracked you here, how else do you think I got here?”
“I was wondering why you two were in the same place.”
“Can you just shoot us both already I’m getting bored.”
“Now Jenny, who do you think we are?”
“You’re the people who killed my mom!”
“Yes, we are that, and I’ll admit we did both shove her—“
“—to her brutal demise. Gory, even.”
“But you’re more than that, which makes what you did even more… foul.”
“What are we?
“You are… My fathers!”
There is only one option in this situation, and Kalingkata and Hexie found that they had to follow it to the letter: They looked at each other, slowly started giggling, then fell to the floor laughing incessantly, till tears formed in their eyes.
“It’s… It’s not funny!”
“Why… Why in space would you think that!??!?!” Hexie stammered.
“My mom left me a letter, told me she’d combined your genetics into-“
“She did no such thing. Your dad’s name was Sam Samson. He worked cleaning grease from ship engines. He died in a Shi bombardment during the war.”
Her gun lowered an inch.
“How do you know that?”
“Because I’ve been keeping tabs on you,” he said to her calmly, to which Hex raised an eyebrow, barely, “because you’re right, Hex and I did kill your mom.” The gun went back up.
“So, I have a challenge for you, Jenny, you’re a mental Kizen, right?”
“How the hell did you know that?”
“Tabs. Now, try to take over my mind. I know it’s how you broke in here. Go on.”
Jenny stared into his eyes. She knew he wasn’t a Kizen, he was just some chump who lucked out and was in the right place at the right time with the right people to fill a power vacuum.
“Fine.” She yelled, and she pushed her consciousness out, lashing at Kalingkata, like a rainstorm of whips.
That was when it all disappeared.
The base, Hexie, Kalingkata, her own body… Suddenly she was in a strange garden of geometric plants, and facing a man, maybe it was a man, who resembled Kalingkata. The features were definitely his, and definitely Korean, but the build was more androgynous, more slender, the eyes a bit keener, and stripes of blonde rifled his black hair.
“Welcome to my mind Jenny, I’m afraid I’m a bit too old hat at this for you to really be able to take me over, but at least you can see the waiting room.” He picked up a flower with a square bloom. “But more importantly, we’re alone. I wanted to talk to you.”
“You’re Kalingkata? You look…”
“Yeah. I thought you were Gongen.”
“I am, but a while back I spent some time living inside a woman’s body. I kept her memories, life, death, giving birth… Strange to hold onto them. But here I am, as I truly am. And so are you.”
Jenny felt strangely insecure. “Shut up, I just came here to kill you.”
“And I came to give you something.” A blue light appeared in Kalingkata’s hands. “ I may not be a Kizen, but when I have a Kizen in my head, I can coast off your powers, a handy side effect of being a woman.”
Jenny reached out. It felt warm.
“What is it?”
“What do you think this will change.”
“I think you’ll accept the job offer I’m about to give you.”
She touched it. “Not happening.”
She opened her eyes, she was in the base, Hexie and Kalingkata stared at her. “I’ll take the job”
“What job?” Hexie yelled.
Ad that was how Backgammon Jenny became Sang Ki’s personal assistant, and how she met Jhe Aladdin, sitting, still swinging his feet, who looked up at her, and smiled as Jenny stared around the bridge.
“Well, welcome to the Spider From Mars” Kalingkata said.
“Congratulations on falling into my web.”
Chapter 2: The Son of the King of Webs
Jhe Aladdin’s life was defined by women. He was closest to his sister Kotone, he of course had his strong and vibrant mother Hotaru, and the ghost in his skull Jade, but that wasn’t the end of it. His father was a woman once, and never forgot it, and when he was a young teen he spent his time flashing his teeth at the pretty girl’s at his private high school, with some success. He also idolized Chess Mistress Hex, who’d killed Jade back in the day, even though Hex didn’t really deserve the adulation, and there at his side growing up was Fei the Doctor, his second mother practically who was always there while he was following his Father around on business. Then he met a Maverick girl named Nightingale who took everything he’d thought about the world, and burned it down to have a marshmallow roast. Those are the obvious ones. But everyone forgets about Aegenor, and no one even thinks about Backgammon Jenny, the girl his father rescued from almost killing him, the one who never got the credit she deserved. This is Aladdin’s story, but this was Jenny’s time to finally shine. Jhe Aladdin’s life was defined by women, and yet every night he stared up at the moving star patterned tiles above his bed, and wondered why people were born under starlight, and what his life would have been like if all the stars he looked at above him weren’t tiles. He closed his eyes.
“Shh,” Nightingale said, and she popped the tab on the grape soda and put it to his lips.
“Why is it grape?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Because this is a lucid dream. And you’re not here.”
“And you’re spending too much time with Hexie.”
“And you’re not here.”
“And you know I’m right.”
“And I wish you were here.”
“But isn’t this what I’d say?”
“That’s good grape soda.” He sipped it through his dreams. “And you’re right.”
And that was always how it was with the girl of his dreams in his dream.
And then there was me, who isn’t a girl. I’m Carl Fredrickson, one of the Senior Espionage Analysts who work with Kalingkata and Hexie. I’m not a spy, of course, that would just be silly.
“So I’m a spy?” I asked Kalingkata during my job interview.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Hexie and I both tried spying on each other, we figured out who the other’s spies were and then it just got ridiculous with us feeding false info that spelled out dirty limericks if you took the first letters of every word and that sort of thing, it got out of hand. Hexie and I don’t spy on each other. We have Senior Espionage Analysts whose job is to try and sneak all the info out from the other’s organization they can, and everyone knows who they are, and no one will try to kill you in your sleep. You’ll even get invited to Hexie’s corporate picnics, and let me tell you, they’re damn good picnics.”
“Why on earth would you let each other have paid spies in your bases you know about?”
“It’s better than having paid spies you don’t know about! We’re all friends here. I went to one of Hexie’s Senior Espionage Analyst’s son’s Bar Mitzvah last month. So don’t think you’re James Bond.”
“Look, just spy on her politely. She might even ask you to tea.”
And that’s how I became a not really spy.
It’s also how I became the narrator of this story, and first met Kalingkata’s son Aladdin. I’d met his dad, but never him, and most of my employment was stealing Hexie’s schematics or donuts, usually both from the break room, and chilling around the water cooler. Every so often Hexie would call me over to her home for tea, which I would never be the only guest for (I wasn’t that important) and it was there that I first met Jhe Aladdin. He was a young man, about Seventeen, wearing non-functional glasses that kept having little blips of light appear on them as we talked, and they were clearly transparent computer screens. He wore a finely tailored suit that had been clearly bought for him by Chess Mistress Hex since I couldn’t imagine the kid buying it himself. He struck me as the kind of kid who’d rather be performing covers of old Earth rock songs on a dirty stage and then eating filet minion for dinner, that is a bright young man with too much money who enjoyed slumming.
The other guests were a stunning blonde girl wearing something between a 1920’s flapper outfit, a pharohess, and a grungy mechanic (if that makes any sense), an older man with a waxed mustache, a war hardened Caucasian man in a trench coat, an Indian girl who looked right out of a cyberpunk fashion shoot who looked wide eyed at everything around her, and finally a young black man who wore worn down by reality jeans, a T-shirt that said “24601” and a blue costume jacket like an 1800’s soldier. They were quite the motley crew, sitting on the floor Nipponese style (which the cyberpunk girl didn’t entirely understand) and drinking what smelled like Earl Grey from English tea cups.
“Ah, Carl, welcome, you’re just in time. I figured I’d let you sit in on this meeting, even though your boss’ son is already here.”
I met Aladdin’s gaze, and it was odd because I think he somehow started a search on me from the dots that popped up over his eyes. “Carl Fredrickson? Good to meet you.” He extended a hand, “Jhe Aladdin.”
“But let me make the rest of the introductions. Welcome to the annual Gang trade summit.”
“I apologize for Bowie de Anhault Dessau not being able to make it in person,” said 24601 boy, “he’s understandably caught up on Earth.”
“Understandable of course,” Hex purred, “this is Jehovah Rhineheart of the Bourgeois-ZZ-Tops. This,” she gestured to flapper pharaoh Grease girl, “Is Cleopatra Hypercube of the Cube2HyperGang,”
“My dad says hi and shit.” She mentioned.
“I bet he does.” Hex smiled, “Darius Nefarious Jones, who needs no introduction.” The man bowed his head in recognition, an irresistible twinkle in his eye, “Screw Top Sarah from the Hellcats,” Sarah smiled at everyone like she was surprised someone knew her name. “Kevin Wilgress from the Regulators.” He barely moved in recognition, “and of course Jhe Aladdin and Carl Fredrickson of the Nest, and myself.” She of course didn’t say her own name. Especially amongst such a team of b-listers. I was impressed Darius came in person, and that two of the Gangs had sent their own children, but it was really impressive that as many of the gangs had managed to send a representative at all. Not all of them had, but he doubted all of them still entirely existed, let alone had the extra manpower to go to a cushy tea meeting.
The meeting itself was pretty blasé, with everybody around the short table requesting some sort of deal from another person at the table, there was quite a lot of bickering, but it was notable how coolly Aladdin handled himself amidst the chaos, there was a glint in his eye like he was another person, and he steamrolled over others arguments, renegotiated contracts, but always made sure he wasn’t screwing anyone or his own side over. This was a war after all. I mainly took notes. Things however, got interesting when Melka Denton came in.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said, his broad shoulders weren’t built like an Ox, the Ox probably would ask if he wanted to use the plow as it would go faster. His muscles were like woven pythons, and his red hair was in a buzz cut. The uniform he wore was almost Earther, but could clearly be spotted as--
“Melka Denton, Earther Revolutionary Forces. I’m here representing Admiral Horatio Hicks.”
Much of the room stared in shock, including Aladdin, whose eyes practically disappeared behind the number of tabs he pulled up on his glasses. The only exception was Jehovah, who stood up and embraced Melka. Earthers are so touchy feely.
“So Melka, how goes the glorious revolution?”
“Not very glorious, Radical Doitzel has changed everything. I’m hesitant to be here, but war makes strange bedfellows.”
“Do you know McCloud?” Aladdin cut in a bit too quickly. Hex barely began to raise an eyebrow- no one else noticed, but occasionally one of her muscles will go rogue and you can get a read off her. Occasionally. Unfortunately it’s usually impossible to tell from a muscle spasm.
“I do indeed know McCloud, and his daughter.”
The negotiations after that were… Interesting. Aladdin worked very diligently to sway shipping contracts in Denton’s favor. He was slick, that’s for sure, and I was pretty sure that a few of the people walked away from the table feeling good about themselves and woke up the next morning wondering what the hell they had agreed to, but it wasn’t extortion. Just a narrower profit margin than any sane negotiator takes. Except our own contract—our own Aladdin just went to town on. I’m not sure if we broke even with it or flat out just lost money, but that was the first moment I realized the McCloud name had something important to do with Aladdin, and also where I leave this story, mostly.
I’m not a rich man, but I am better at my job then Hex thinks I am. Thanks to bugs, interviews, stolen data cards, bribery, hacked video footage, and all sorts of fun stuff, including alcohol induced confessions, I’ve pieced this story together. All the dialogue as it appears is word for word as it was said, and all paraphrased pieces of dialogue are from a secondary source, and hence less reliable. Hopefully we all live through this war, and I’ll be able to sell this for massive amounts of dough when it’s over. Fingers crossed.
Chapter 3: A Game of Murders
Now, I spent a lot of time going through who was at that tea party, and there was a good reason for it. Some of them don’t live through this chapter. Also, the tea party wasn’t the only function they were going to. Hex rarely does public events, but she was throwing some sort of War time gala. It wasn’t entirely clear what the focus of it was. Hex was sort of selling War Bonds, sort of bringing Gongen, Maverick, Earther, and Quay diplomats together, sort of holding a giant information coup, and sort of just throwing a party. I am very certain whatever her full intentions were, she wanted to make sure no one was certain.
“Now Aladdin,” Hex said behind her dressing screen as she tried on dresses, “this is going to be your real time to shine. There will be a lot of important people at this meeting, and I want you to get everything you can out of them.”
“I’d figured that before you said it Hexie.”
“Good boy, Aladdin. You’re like a wish come true.”
“No magic lamp jokes.”
“I wasn’t going to make any!”
“I doubt that.”
“Oh don’t let it rub you the wrong way. I’m teaming you up with one of my agents, she’s one of the best… And!” She poked her head around the screen. “She’s cute. What with your whole hormone thing I figured you’d like that.”
“I don’t think you quite-“
“Look, this is a very important night, and I’m trusting you. You’ve done your job splendidly so far.” Aladdin nodded, and looked down at his tablet computer he was jotting down notes on. There was a tab there with a bird on it. It said no new messages. He glanced at it repeatedly.
“I’ll do my best Hexie.”
Hexie called me to her house, it was the middle of the night, and if that wasn’t odd enough, she had called me to talk to her alone. All of these were new things. When I got there, I was put through several security scans, and let through the garden door by a blank eyed servant, who led me to a drawing room, where Hex stood facing a window, her hands behind her back, the wind blowing a tree ominously. She had framed herself like a painting when I entered, I got chills. She was good.
“Sit down Carl,” she gestured at a specific chair. Neither statement nor action was a request. I took a seat. “You’ve hacked into all of my private bugs, and private video feeds.”
I was scared, more scared then I’d ever been in my life, “that’s my job, Mistress Hex.”
“Do you know why you have been allowed to do this?” ….Allowed?
“Don’t think I’m so foolish. You couldn’t have hacked those firewalls unless I wanted you to. I let you. And now that you are in, I want you to do a job for me. One that will stay between us.”
“I’d rather die than betray Kalingkata.”
“Yes, he has that effect of people. Sometimes I think Jade died because she knew she would betray him if only she lived long enough and wanted to get it over with. But then I remember she wasn’t deep enough for that level of emotional turmoil. No, you won’t be betraying him. Quite the opposite. You’ll be doing him a favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
“Do you think being the Gambler is my only aspiration Carl?” She walked towards a cabinet, and took out a bottle of fine brandy. Or something like brandy, it was dark. She poured herself a glass. She had yet to show me her face.
“No, I don’t think you’d limit yourself to that.”
“Clever boy. Now, who do you think would take over here if I left?” She sipped, I shrugged.
“Lucian?” She laughed, “not nearly devious enough, darling. I need someone more talented.” It was of course, obvious: “You want me to spy on Jhe Aladdin.”
“Not just spy, compile. I don’t have the time to watch hours and hours of footage of him. I’m a busy woman. You’ll be handing me the cliff notes version of an assignment I’ll be sending him on, an assignment I have very very carefully bugged, wired, tapped, and made accessible in every way possible. Aladdin is bugged, he knows it of course, he knows if I want to I can hear what he hears and see what he sees. He also knows I don’t really care. But I will for next week. So that’s your assignment, cliff notes. And make sure the story is a good one. I’ll be sending you money for bribes to get any background info you need, you’ll also have access to some of my archives, so feel free to clear up any old cases you were wondering about for Kalingkata while you’re there.”
“Understood… I’ll get right on it Mistress Hex.” I got up and headed for the door.
“Oh, and Carl?” I turned, and her hair swung as she turned her head, her eyes filled with a look of utter blood drenched seriousness, the kind of vicious bloodthirstiness you’d imagine a killer having, “Carl, if you tell anyone about this little job, I will kill you, and I will get Kalingkata to want to kill you to. I will kill your family, or enslave them. And I will make sure none of your deaths are fast, or easy. Are we clear?” She smiled like a loving mother.
“Yes Hexie. Very clear.”
Aladdin was meeting Aegenor for the first time then, in an abandoned ship dock that only had air because the atmosphere generators were solar powered, and there were hobos there smart enough to fix them up. Aladdin had been dropped off by cab, as he’d been told his new partner would be driving to meet him. She was half an hour late, and Aladdin was half temped to start walking home, when he heard the hum of an engine. The car roared in from the distance, it was an old one but not a classic, a dented up 2360’s model that had quite a few junkyard parts that had never been painted to match up. The car skidded to a halt a bit from him, and a black haired white girl with a line of pierced rings down her cheek, a tight fitting turtle neck, a bulky cargo vest, and cargo pants got out. “You Jhe Aladdin?”
“I am, you Aegenor Philips?”
“Yeah,” she muttered, wiping her nose on the back of her hand as she stepped toward him. Aladdin extended a hand. She punched him in the face. He staggered back, blood streaming from his nose.
“What the hell?!?”
“Welcome to the Cartel, bitch boy.” She punched him in the stomach, and he bent over in pain.
“Thought you’d be a little pus. Hex always teams me up with your kind. Skinny little hacker boys—“
Aladdin ran forward and head-butted her into the car, it sounded like a rib broke.
“You little shit!” She kneed him in the chin, and the click of his teeth timed perfectly as he fell to the ground, which didn’t last long as she tried to kick him, and he grabbed her leg. Not only did he pull her down, but he bit her.
“Let go of my leg!” She tried to beat him off, but he just bit down harder, like a wolf. She could see the blood staining her khaki cargos. “Fine, I’m done fighting just get the fuck off me!” He let go, stood up, and spit her blood, and his own, out of his mouth. His face was a mess.
“Let’s try that again.” He extended a hand. “Jhe Aladdin”
“Aegenor Philips.” She shook his hand. She spat in his face. He wiped it off.
“That’s very nice. I see you’re very eloquent. She spat again.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He yelled, and then spat a bloody gob of spit at her. She hadn’t thought that through well enough. “I guess we’re working together,” she said as she wiped the bloody spittle from her eye. “I guess we are. I see we’re off to a great start.”
“I just wanted to get you use to life in maverick space. I know very well who you are, rich piece of trash trying to get in on our world. Never even killed someone before.”
Aladdin looked at her very seriously from hind his cracked spectacles, “actually I burned some people alive once. Also, I served on a pirate ship. Also, while you were punching me, I took your grenades from your pockets.” He dumped them on the ground at her feet.
“So, how do you say it Maverick space… Hmn, I’m unfamiliar with the Lingo, but I think the term is, “Shut the fuck up Aegenor?” Yes that’s it.” He walked over to the passenger side of the car. “We leaving or not?” She glared at him, and got in.
Aegenor is the same age as Aladdin, only about a month older or younger depending on which birthday is right. She was born on the streets, and didn’t exactly get along well there. Her mom and dad were both alive, which meant she couldn’t go to one of the Darkshadow memorial orphanages. Sometimes she wished her mom and dad would just abandon her so she could go and get an education, she tried running away a few times, but that only led to heavier beatings, and she soon found it was easier to spend her time wandering the streets stealing, and fencing things to the small time gangs then it was learning to do math or learn about science. She beat up her first boy at the age of 7, after getting beat up before then, and she beat up anyone she could after it. She lost her virginity at the age of 12 to a sixteen year old, because she thought it would make her cool. When it didn’t, she beat the shit out of the girls who called her a slut till they either shut up, or didn’t have any teeth left for her to knock out. At fourteen she met a cartel recruiter, and impressed him by beating up his body guard. She was hired on the spot. Since then she hasn’t seen her parents, or her siblings, and she drives her car around the moon, beating the shit out of anyone her boss wants. She’s great with her fists, great with a gun, great with a sword, great with being silent, great with stealing. Less great on talking or socializing. Still not satisfied with where she is.
Aegenor and Aladdin went to a combination clinic/greasy spoon called “The Nommy Cleric”. You could get a fish stick and chips basket with a cola and a checkup for only twelve creds. The franchise was definitely going places.
“So,” Aladdin said, holding the ice pack to his face, “what exactly is our mission?”
“We’re going to a gala Hex set up. You’ll be my date. We’re to gather Intel from a list of targets, and if anyone starts trouble, take care of it.” Aladdin nodded, “great, do you know how to dance?”
“I can dance better then you I bet.”
“Ballroom dance.” She was silent for a moment.
“Okay then, show me, and let’s waltz.” Aladdin stood up, and held out his hand, Aegenor looked at it, took it, and got up. Aladdin slipped his hand around her waist, and she slapped it away.
“It’s part of the dance.”
“I know. Just didn’t want you to get any ideas.” They were closer together then she’d like, but she had to improvise fast and she needed to learn the dumb dance, despite the awkward looks of the waiters, other patrons attached to IV’s, and the guy at the register. He moved his feet, and she stumbled around. He had to be enjoying this, she thought, but he held his face calm and collected, “1, 2, 3” he whispered, and suddenly the whole thing was very obvious. She wasn’t into the whole ‘following’ thing, but it was part of the dance, and she was getting paid, so she adapted pretty quickly, and soon enough the two of them were twirling down the aisle. Aladdin was surprised how much muscle he felt on her, like she was an Olympic athlete, Aegenor was not at all surprised how little muscle she felt on him. “Well then, I think we’ll be in good shape if you also know the foxtrot, and the-“
“Okay fine, I don’t know any of these, but can we practice them not in the diner, I’m going to knock over someone’s IV’s.”
“Complimentary Anti-Biotics on the house? The manager loved the entertainment.” They took the pills. “Here’s to no infections.”
“Cheers, or whatever,” she replied.
Maybe this partnership wouldn’t go so badly after all.
“I hate this, I hate you, I hate this dress, and I hate champagne.” She downed the rest of the glass and set it back on the server’s tray. “I apologize to the champagne actually.”
“Ha. Ha.” Aladdin followed her through the crowd, “and you need to remain more calm when people hit on you.”
“I didn’t hit him.”
“That is a blessing, but you dis throw champagne in his face.”
“A waste. I could be tipsy by now I’m only buzzing.”
“That’s wonderful and I’m sure your backwater charm will win over the hearts and minds of-“ He maneuvered around a waiter, “all of the diplomats, but we really need to go back and talk to more of them.” She turned around.
“The Gambler is playing some mean game pairing me with you?” Aladdin pushes his glasses back to the ridge of his nose, which was still bruised, but thanks to high end make up didn’t look so at all.
“Indeed they are. It’s a pretty obvious test. I searched you, you know. I know all about your record with the Cartel. I think the Gambler wants to see what both of us are made of.” She looked at him like a man about to kick a dog.
“You’re right. Let’s go talk to the diplomats.”
Aladdin held his elbow out to her, and she roped her arm around it more daintily then he would have thought. Dinner would be eaten soonish, but you were supposed to assemble all your foot at the buffet and take it to the table to start eating only when the host took the first bite. They wandered, till Aladdin saw someone he recognized, “Cleopatra Hypercube?” Cleopatra turned, and the beads braided in her hair rattled as she did so, holding a roll in her teeth, in her hand was a plate full of rolls with her name and the number of rolls on it scrolling in green letters.
“MMM HMN?” She said. Perfect ease in, thought Aladdin.
“Cleopatra Hypercube, meet Aegenor Phillips.
“Pleasure. Finally.” Aegenor said shaking her hand.
“MMESSURE” Cleo said between the roll. She bit off some, and finally held the roll, “I met you at the conference? Your Kalingkata’s kid yeah?”
“That I am. Aegenor, this is the daughter of Geraldine and Michelangelo Hypercube.”
“Is that your real last name?” Cleo shrugged. “I dunno. You know Aladdin, you remind me of two of my siblings.”
“Ulysses and Anya, you kinda look like Ulysses, ya know, cause he’s half Gongen from before my folks met, but I feel like you’ve also got some Anya in your eyes. It’s funny.”
“I’ve never met them, so I can’t tell you. I’ve always wanted to meet your parents, my Dad would never let me.”
“That’s weird. She never let us meet him.” Aegenor looked back and forth between the two of them, as Cleo and Aladdin shared a weird look.
“What a weird co-incidence. My dad probably pissed your parents off back in the day.”
“Or vice versa…” the two of them laughed.
“So what brings you to this conference?” Aegenor was very tired of their chatter.
“Well, it’s hard to do business without the Cartel. The Gambler has most of it locked up and…” she put her hand on her stomach. “I don’t feel so good.”
“Well you were carrying that roll around in your teeth forever girl that can’t be-“
“…Really not good.” Aladdin grabbed the roll from her hand and smelled it, and handed it to Aegenor, who smelled it as well.
“It’s fucking poisoned.”
“Yeah, shit, Cleopatra you need to throw up.”
“I don’t know how to do that!”
“Let me.” Aegenor, in one swift motion put her fingers in Cleopatra’s mouth, and her other hand rammed her stomach. There was a gagging sound, and then Cleo puked over Aegenor’s hand, onto the fancy carpet. The guests nearby looked over, “Aw geez Cleo, you had way too much Champagne, let’s go sit down…” Aladdin and Aegenor led her to some chairs in the corner, and Aladdin grabbed some water, which he tested with one of the poison/acid test strips that he used to test Hexie’s coffee every morning. “Wash your mouth out, you already puked so just spit on the floor, hopefully everyone think’s your drunk.”
“Thanks….” She muttered, and swished, and spat. Aegenor wiped her hand off on the carpet, till a server came round with a complimentary towel. “I need to make a call,” Aladdin touched Aegenor’s shoulder as he did so, and she knew who he was calling.
“Yes my dear?”
“We have a serious problem.”
“A Hypercube threw up on your date? I saw that.”
“That’s a bit more serious.”
“I checked the rolls, they aren’t all poisoned. So it’s targeted. Probably something that can be added via liquid and evaporates quickly. We need to get people out of here.”
There was a hacking sound, and a thud, and a scream, and another.
“I think it’s too late for that.”
Screw Top Sarah, young as she was, was lying on the floor, foam dribbling from her mouth, and a piece of cake in her hand, the finest she had ever gotten to taste before. Food was dropped, and security rushed in, “Well this isn’t going according to plan.”
“Or theirs, I think they intended a timed launch, no one was supposed to be eating their food yet, just taking it to the table from the buffet.”
“The two who got it were the ones who didn’t know or care.”
“Exactly. Always invite mooks to your banquets for this exact reason Aladdin.” He cringed a bit, “So, what exactly are we going to do?”
“The same thing we do every night Aladdin, not die.”
“I mean about the murder.”
“I’ll get the guests in order. You are going to go and find out how everyone was poisoned.”
“Aye aye Hexie. Send someone over here to get Cleopatra medical attention.” He hung up, Aegenor looked over at him, she was rubbing Cleopatra’s back.
“So what’s the news?”
“We’re becoming detectives, apparently. But not very good ones.”
“Because I already know how they were planning on killing their targets, we just need to know who they were now.”
“And how we’re they planning on it, since you’re so smart?” Aladdin walked over to the buffet table, and stuck his hand over it. The thing scanned his hand, and then out popped a plate, with his name glowing green on it. “These are smart-plates, as silly as that is. The buffet table knows who each of us is. The assassin didn’t need to poison the food, just the plates.” Aegenor nodded, “So is yours poisoned?”
Aladdin whipped out a poison test strip and touched it to the plate. “Very much so, yes.”
“Then what’s in common between you and Cleopatra hypercube?” Aladdin shook his head, “absolutely nothing except for…” Well actually it was obvious and he shouldn’t have even started that sentence. “She and I were both at Hex’s tea party for negotiating the treaties between the maverick gangs.”
“So Doitzel is trying to take out the representatives?”
“Looks like.” Aegenor thought for a moment,
“It’s a longshot, but you can always see if the perpetrators left something behind inside the machine. They had to have installed something to poison the plates after all.”
“A fair point.” He pulled out a screwdriver, which seemed like a weird thing to carry around, and began unscrewing the panel on the side of the buffet. “They probably just put in some sort of dispenser tied to the personal recognition plate…” He popped the panel open, and the expression on Aladdin’s face made it unquestionable that Aegenor would lean over to look at what he was staring at.
It was quite the sight.
It was like nothing she had ever seen before.
Aegenor had heard of aliens, and she had seen Shi and Quay, but somehow they still looked… Relatable. They had one head, they had torsos and arms, and they had eyes and something resembling a face. What Aladdin was looking at did not meet these qualities.
It was at its simplest, a long matte dark grey segmented rope. Its segments were pseudo cylindrical shells about the size of a soda can, that bent at thin, ribbed, black, rubbery looking flesh in the gaps. The armored segments each sprouted some translucent blue and clear tendrils and spines, some more rigid, some looser like thin tentacles, but all needle thin. There didn’t seem to be a patter too which were hard and which were soft. The texture of the segments was hard and rough, like worn down sandpaper on top of a rock. The rope seemed to branch, randomly, so that it wasn’t a snake, and if you lay it out flat would resemble neither a tree nor a stick figure. But at the end of each was a black talon, curved downward and sharp. There was a thin trench between the Talon and the shell around it, and Aegenor had the odd impression it was looking at the two of them from the gap, a ring of an eye.
So that was that.
The next few seconds happened even faster than they did literally. One moment, Aladdin and the thing were having a mutually shocked staring contest, the next he was lunging, the next he had his hands around it, the next it lurched back quickly—very quickly, because the next moment Aladdin wasn’t there.
“Aladdin!” she yelled, and rushed up to the hole, where she could see some sort of long tunnel that a series of rails was moving plates and dishes through, going down into floor. Well, now was no time for waiting. Aegenor jumped in as well. The rails pulled her down into the machinery, and she could see Aladdin ahead of her, the thing was wrapped around his torso, and Aladdin was slamming its whipping tendrils into the machinery as it pulled them down… And then it started pulling them up. Aegenor slowly moved forward along the track that was pulling her, the gears ripping her dress as she squirmed. She just hoped this thing didn’t narrow, or Aladdin and she were both dead. Pretty soon she could see Aladdin’s feet… And then something strange happened: the thing latched onto Aladdin’ spine. Aladdin looked surprised, but whatever the thing was doing, it didn’t work out, because it began thrashing violently, as though it had thought it was dipping its foot into a calm pool of water only to find it was acid. Aegenor got closer to it, and as it thrashed she started beating the thing relentlessly, smashing it with her fists hard enough she started cracking bit of its exo skeleton. This only made it thrash harder, and the spines on its body gashed her and Aladdin, but not before the ceiling beneath them came loose.
They had, in their little adventure, gone under the floor, and along it, up the wall, and into the ceiling. When the ceiling broke, they tumbled down onto the floor, the strange creature falling in a mass of broken coils, writhing and shivering, squirming and thrashing. Aladdin and Aegenor staggered up, and drew their guns. If there was any time to unload a gun into something, it was then, and they did so.
Aladdin panted, and wiped his brow off.
“I guess we solved the mystery.”
“I think I hate mysteries.” Aladdin laughed in between breaths, at least this day couldn’t get any weirder.
Chapter 4: Anya Hypercube’s Day Out
Anya was grinning pretty sneakily. Her face would light up, and she’d bit her lip smiling and then straighten her face out, because everything was totally normal. Ulysses knew better of course, he was after all her brother, well, step brother, well, brother. “There something you want to tell me about that arm of yours sis?” Anya quit hiding her grim, “aw, you noticed.”
“Looks like you got some work done. Anything special?”
“This arm has bladed nails in it. They’re super effective!” She flicked her hand, and out slid some lovely metal fingernails that could quite easily remove a person from being alive.
“Shiny. That’s quite the slash you’ve got up in your arm. You’re becoming a Pokémon.”
“Does mom know?” Ulysses paused, “does mom care?”
Being a member of the Hypercube family meant a lot of things. It meant that you had more siblings then most people had extended family (a grand total of fourteen children, scaling from mid-20’s to 6 years old), it meant you lived on a dome city on a space station in a manor house that wasn’t quite kept at all clean, it meant that you were heirs to one of the larger shipping companies in the rim, and it meant that you were always wondering if your youngest sibling was really going to always be your youngest sibling. Twelve of the kids were from the marriage of Michelangelo Hypercube and Geraldine ‘’Jackbox” McGraw, but the oldest two were not. Anya was Michelangelo’s kid from a previous relationship, and Ulysses was Geraldine’s from her own. Anya was blonde, and could pass for Geraldine’s daughter if it came to it, though Geraldine had light brown hair, most of her siblings were blonde, just not quite as blonde as her. Ulysses wasn’t fooling anybody, he was half Gongen, and boy did it show.
“Yeah, she knows”
“I don’t know much about fashion, but they seem stylish.”
“Geraldine seemed pleased. And hey, they’ll come in handy if we run into trouble again!”
Ulysses leaned back in his chair and laughed, “They will, and knowing us that’s bound to happen.”
Anya swung her hand through the air, as though it was an enemy. It was effective against the air, but also on the curtain behind it.
“Anya! We just bought those. I think.” She shrugged.
“Dad can get new ones. You know Ulysses, there’s so much out there to do… You and me, we should go out there, be big damn heroes. We could be that.”
“That we could, I mean, what’s stopping us? You can fix thing, killing curtains, you’re a good pilot, and I can beat up anyone who messed with you. Flawless team.”
“You think I’m good at piloting? …That means a lot to me.” Ulysses remembered dragging her out of the burning speeder, her arm and leg just bloody stumps of pulp….
“I’ve never gotten a scratch on me when we fly.”
“I’ve gotten better since the accident, thank you…”
“I know you have.” He tosseled her hair, she laughed and shoved him playfully, running her fingers through her long hair to fix it.
“You know, we’re just passing the time right now, but we don’t have to be… We could go somewhere.”
That was what Anya had been waiting to hear. Her eyes lit up with the promise of adventure.
“Well where haven’t we been too?”
“Never broke into a high class affair before, or met Dale Dinosaur Davis—“
“Oooooh! High class stuff… Think we can get away with it?”
“What’s the worst that happens if we fail, we don’t get invited back?”
“Geraldine told me something’s about diplomats from the Cartel… They sounded like Monsters.”
“What exactly did they do?”
“She generalized. Said Dad wouldn’t like it if she said too much. Said they were vicious psychos all
jostling for a scrap of power, lying and cheating… Word treason came up a lot.”
“Mom doesn’t throw that word around lightly… I wonder why she let Cleo go to that Cartel gala.”
Anya stopped, her entire body froze like Ulysses was a Gorgon.
“What do you mean our sister Cleopatra is meeting with them?”
Ulysses had just thought she knew.
* * * *
The two of them rode through the strange night of the dome city. It was entirely an artificial construct, one that many of the station’s inhabitants thought should have been discarded decades ago. The great hot lights attached to the dome’s ceiling were dimmed to weird pseudo darkness, there was enough light to see, but it was still dark, and the stars were thick above Anya and Ulysses heads. She had her hair down, and it flowed behind her into the air. She was wearing her step-mom’s dress, carefully pilfered from her closet without her knowing. It was like something out of the 1920’s, and Jade Green. It didn’t look like her mom wore it much, so she figured it wouldn’t be missed. Ulysses was wearing one of his step-dad’s many Tuxes’. Even though they weren’t related to their step parents, they sized right, which pleased Ulysses to be like Michelangelo, and made Anya feel slightly uncomfortable though she would never admit it, to be so like Geraldine.
As their speeder closed in towards the convention hall, made of a fat and boring block of a building with ornate sides to hide the fact that it was essentially a brick, and a spire of a tower that sprung out of it. There was plenty of gold filigree on the place, and in front of it all was the largest fountain Anya or Ulysses had ever seen, shooting a Geyser of water up towards the roof of the dome. Signs clearly said not to climb it or throw things in it. There were vehicles of all shapes and sizes in front of it, spaceships too on their landing pads. All of them however, were clearly remarkably expensive. There was one thing that wasn’t there however.
“Where is the security? I was expecting… A lot, not none.” Noises came from inside, loud ones. Anya looked at Ulysses, “That doesn’t sound good. I knew this would be bad. Cleo has to be in trouble.” Anya did what she wasn’t supposed to do above all: speed. She tore through the parking lot, pulling up in front of the center and hopping over the door instead of opening it, which didn’t’ quite work as she did it… She’d have to practice that, and began barreling though the open doors into the building, followed by Ulysses close behind.
What they saw when they got into the hall, was not what they expected. The security wasn’t outside, because they were all in here, corralling hundreds of very finely dressed people, including one who stood out to Anya above all others, “Cleo!” her sister was crying, her make up utterly ruined, her arms folded in front of her. Anya wasn’t surprised no one at the Cartel event was trying to help her. Cleo looked up, and looked more relieved to see her sister and brother then she ever had before. Ulysses tapped Anya on the shoulder, and pointed, and what Anya hadn’t noticed at first glance was frankly embarrassing.
There, on the floor, was a large part of the ceiling. Amidst the rubble was a Gongen kid, mid to late teens, and a maverick girl of about the same age. The Gongen boy was dressed in a now very dirty Tux, and was throwing off his glasses, which he didn’t seem to need anyways. The girl was dressed in an evening gown she looked entirely uncomfortable in, which was even more ripped torn and dirty then the boy’s tux, on account of it being a dress. They were both holding guns. None of that however was really the notable part; the really notable part was the twitching coiled thing on the floor that was clearly not of this world, or this solar system. It writhed and made strange sounds, and the Gongen boy and maverick girl, stumbling, pulled out guns and shot the thing till it stopped quivering. Off to
“Maybe it’s our kind of party after all.” Anya mused.
The Gongen boy began stumbling over to a dark haired woman, and had a few words with her before sitting down in a chair, and slumping over.
They both turned, and Cleo rushed them with a teary, teary hug. “Cleo!”
"Oh my Gosh, I'm so glad you're both here! I Know mom said she never wanted you to show up to this ever or something, but I couldn't be happier' She hugs us both, "It was so awful, they poisoned me, and Aladdin and Aegenor got it out of me, but they couldn't save the helcat girl, and then they went looking for the killer, and then they fell from the ceiling with the whatever that is, and I am just so so glad you're here!" she said very very fast.
Anya tried to think of what to say. That was quite the burst of words, and as far as she could tell there was something rather seriously amiss at the moment.
“Why would they poison the food? Who poisoned it? Who are Aladdin and Aegenor?” Anya spat out, almost in an effort to not forget what she was wondering.
“I have no idea but Aladdin is over there, “she pointed at where the Gongen boy was rubbing his temples in a wing chair.
“You should go talk to him Anya.”
“You’re the diplomat of the family—“ She spoke and then turned to face Ulysses, who had Cleo wrapped up in a hug, and she was quite buried in it. Ulysses looked at her with a face that fully expressed how little he could break out of this hold. Anya just gave him a thumbs up and started walking away, towards the Gongen boy. She wasn’t particularly adept at these sorts of things, but she’d certainly do her best. Of course, fate intervened to create a scenario far stranger then was ever her intention.
When she walked up to Aladdin, she thought of how she could introduce herself to him. Break the ice so to speak. She decided referencing a classic might work?
“Um… Hey. So…. Mighty fine shindig ain’t it?” Anya sputtered out.
The Gongen boy looked up from rubbing his eyes, and at first simply stared. The staring made Anya pretty uncomfortable.
“Do you know her?” The girl in the torn up dress asked the boy.
“How did you…” he reached for his pocket. She was pretty sure there was a gun in his pocket.
“…How did I what?”
“You can’t be real! You’re dead! You died!” he reached his hand out towards her, shaking. She had no idea what was going on, and wasn’t sure how this day could really get any weirder. She gently reached out towards him to touch his hand, and show him she was real. He flinched as she did so.
“"I... I don't know who you think I am, but I'm not whoever she is. I'm definitely not dead, and I never have been."
"I'd know you anywhere. How did you get a new body? You think you can just.... Come back into my life and torture me again? I'm better then you Jade Darkshadow! I know your face. How could I forget it.. You look younger though."Anya had heard that name before, way too many times. Strangers thinking she was this “Jade Darkshadow” Anya was annoyed he’d mistaken her for her as well, and it made her angry, but whoever this Jade was, she was clearly a jerk, and clearly nothing like Anya.
“Um…. I’m Anya Hypercube. That’s my name. Are you Jhe Aladdin?” if his face before had been one of anger and shock, his new one was that of shock confusion and embarrassment, and maybe still anger.
“"...Anya Hypercube? You're Anya Hypercube..... YOU'RE.... Anya... Oh dear. I'm Jhe Aladdin. Um... Hi." They shook hands, awkwardly.
“…You know me? Of me?”
"I know someone.... like you. And your sister mentioned that I reminded her of you in some weird way."
“Oh… Well, I came to ask if you knew why someone would poison the food. Or what that thing was, or why someone would want to hurt Cleo.”
“I’ll answer yours if you answer mine.”
"The food was poisoned because Radical Doitzel is trying to destroy the trade agreement between the gangs. He tried to take out all of the representatives of each of the gangs tonight with his..."
The girl, who must be Aegenor cut in, "I think it’s a spy"
"You call that a spy?"
"You call that talking?"
"Shut the hell up!"
"You- anyways, the spy didn't exactly work out..."
"Because we shot it"
"Yes we did. So the answer is Radical Doitzel and his henchmen poisoned the food" Anya was horrified. The horror showed on her face.
“Why would he want to do that?”
“He’s fighting a war, he wants to break our backs so he can take over our system. You heard about the war on Earth? What he’s been doing there? He’s not stopping there.”
The look of horror on her face increased tenfold. Aladdin realized he’d just over loaded her, “Sorry, do you need to sit down? We have chairs… I just killed an eldritch horror from beyond creation,”
“we killed,” Aegenor cut in.
“Yes, we killed, so trust me I know the feeling.” Anya sat down. She would have asked for a drink, but her sister had just been poisoned, so no.
“So… Doitzel wants to take over the solar system, and he wants to do that by killing some Gang representatives?”
“Yes, he does, and this one action wouldn’t win the war, but it would cause a lot of chaos in our ranks. He did only send one…” Aladdin looked at the corpse of the alien, “…guy?”
“So Doitzel almost killed my sister.”
“Yes he did. His failure was accidental.” Anya was angry. Angrier then she had ever felt before, angrier then she knew she could feel. She was shaking. Her fists were clenched, the metal one squeaking a bit as she strained the motors in it. Aladdin’s eyes were like moons, he looked like a child realizing his parent was getting into “that mood” again.
“I-It’s okay. Its gunna be okay. Y-y-you don’t h-h-have to get angry. She’s okay.” Aegenor shoved Aladdin aside.
“Shut up, of course she’s angry, I’d wanna kill the bastard too after this.” Aladdin just put his hands in his pockets and looked away
“You good, you wanna yell or break something?” It was a high class establishment, which made it only more rewarding when Aegenor picked up a chair, and Anya took it from her and smashed it to bits on the ground like a rock star who got the wrong color M&M’s. Aladdin just walked away.
“Lots. Sorry, just, we’re a close family, the Hypercubes, and it makes me very angry when people threaten any of my siblings, or my dad for that matter… Or my stepmom. We’re really loyal.” Aegenor smiled with sad envy, away from them Cleo and Ulysses were looking much happier, and Ulysses was still doing things to cheer his sister up, which only multiplied the burning envy inside Aegenor’s heart.
“Must be nice, family. Sorry about Aladdin, he’s a little punk. I don’t know why he’s freaking out at you so much, looks like he saw a ghost or something. Dude is such a spazz.”
“It’s okay. I wish I knew what was bugging him.”
“He’s really not Cartel material.”
“Aw Damn, Dad is going to be so pissed when he finds out about this!”
“His daughter was almost murdered,”
“And I’m not supposed to be here.”
“My Dad and Geraldine always got super weird whenever the Cartel is involved in anything. They didn’t even tell me they were sending Cleo here. They’re also weird about the Nest, but none of the other Maverick gangs. I wish they’d just… Talk to me.”
Aegenor bit her lip, “Aladdin’s dad runs the nest you know. You could ask him.”
“He’s acting weird.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“But you’re here with him.”
“I’m not his date, just his assigned escort.”
Anya suddenly stopped and realized she had skipped over an important piece of information, “Wait a second- you said his dad runs the nest?!?!”
* * * *
Anya had never seen a fountain so big, the geyser in the center was huge, and nearly the height of the habitation dome. Aladdin had climbed the “No climbing!” ledge and stood, hands in his pockets, watching the water move. She walked up slowly
“Come on up.” She climbed it clumsily, trying not to tear her step-mom’s dress, and Aladdin reached down a shaky hand to pull her up.
“Thanks.” She stood on the ledge next with him and dusted the dress off, the view here on the fountain was beautiful, rainbows arced through the tub of the fountain through the huge streams of water and the hot illuminating lights.
“Welcome… I’m sorry about earlier. You make me rather uncomfortable, nothing about you…”
“Something to do with Jade Darkshadow?”
“A lot to do with Jade Darkshadow. What’s that mean to you?”
“Nothing, just heard you say it earlier. Who is she?”
“She is a woman who my Father knew a long time ago. She's dead. The Gambler killed her two decades ago. But I've known her my whole life." Anya could not have been more confused by that sentence.
“Sorry, it’s weird. Weird is definitely the right word. Do you believe in souls?”
“Life sparks? I guess.”
“My father and Jade Darkshadow did some sort of... Experiment. I'm still fuzzy on a lot of it. But their life sparks got linked together during it. When he died... Her consciousness lingered. When I was growing up, she would talk to me, enter my dreams... Sorry you must think I'm crazy. You should go. I shouldn't have said anything."
"No... This is interesting. Their life sparks linked? How is that possible? And what kinds of things did she say to you in your dreams?"
"I don't know how it is. No one has been able to replicate it... It was a freak accident. When she visited me in my dreams, she would tell me about her life, or tell me what she dreamed I would become. She would build empires of thought, and treat me like a beloved son, and then beat me and hurt me and leave me alone for a year locked in my dreams when I made her angry. I was her toy, and her tool, and I think she wanted to use me for her goals she never achieved in life. And then she just... Disappeared"
"Wha... That's horrible. She mentally abused you, and then abandoned you out of nowhere?"
"You've got the gist of it." Anya had seen some bad things in her time, like when she’d crashed her speeder, and seen her arm and leg in bloody chunks next to her, but she had been an adult then, she hadn’t been a child.
“Your dad knew her? Aegenor said he ran the Nest.”
He nodded, “Yeah, he knew her. You’ve probably heard of my dad, he goes by the name Kalingkata usually.” Anya had heard of Kalingkata, the famous Maverick hacker who ran the Nest, who fought the Shi, and won a Nobel Prize for science.
“Wow. Yeah, I’ve heard of him. He’s pretty famous huh?”
“Yeah, he probably helped design something in that arm of yours”
She grinned, “This isn’t a traditional arm, I modded it pretty heavily.” Aladdin smiled, finally.
“I can tell. You’ve done some good work on it.” Not to mention the robotic parts made her look less like Jade. “Anything notable you did to it?”
“Promise you won’t freak out?”
“I just told you ghosts are real and you look exactly like a dead woman who haunted me since I was a baby. I think we are past that point"
She flicked out bladed nails from her hand, they were really a work of art, some Maverick craftsman had done a great job with them, Aladdin leaned in to inspect them, he’d learned to love tech stuff from his dad.
“Careful, they’re sharp!”
He laughed, “I can see that, monomolecular edge?”
“I’d high five you, but I still need this hand.” She slid her nails in, and the two of them did said gesture, framed by a burst from the fountain.
“You’re quite the mystery woman, Anya Hypercube. I take it your parents are the famous Michelangelo and Geraldine Hypercube of the Cube2Hypergang?
“Yep! I mean, well, sort of. My dad is Michelangelo, Geraldine is my stepmom.”
Aladdin raised an eyebrow. She looked like Jade. “Oh? Well, is it rude to ask who your birthmother was?”
Anya turned away from him and looked at the water rise, “I… Don’t know. I asked Dad, and he told me it was something he didn’t want to talk about.”
“I’m sorry, really sorry. That must be hard for you.”
“It is.” She kept staring. Aladdin thought for a moment, and touched her on the shoulder, as Anya turned to look at him, he withdrew an orange from his bag. Anya tilted her head to the side, and then Aladdin pointed to a sign,
“DO NOT THROW ANYTHING INTO THE FOUNTAIN.”
Aladdin held the orange out to her, and made a mock throwing motion, Anya smiled at him faintly, took the orange with her stronger robotic arm, and chucked it at the fountain with all the force the cybernetics in her arm could muster, which was plenty. The orange shot up the towering geyser in the center of the fountain- and then keeps going up! However, there is only so much up in a city dome, and the orange exploded into droplets against the clear dome, the bits of orange reflecting the starlight like a cold firework. Anya laughed to herself, and spun in a circle, watching the shining orange droplets. Aladdin was pleased, “that’s better. I didn’t mean to make you sad.”
“It’s okay, I like getting to talk about it, really. I’m not the only one with that problem in my family. Ulysses is Geraldine’s kid, and she won’t tell him who his dad is. I think he’s from a previous marriage.”
“Was he the one hugging Cleo?”
“Yep. He looks a little like you to be honest.”
“Gongen dad, pretty clearly. You look a lot like Jade Darkshadow to be honest.”
She sighed, and he could tell he shouldn’t have made the comparison again. She just ignored the comment. “Yeah, but that’s about all we know. They’ve really kept a lot of secrets from us.”
“Same here. My dad didn’t tell me about Jade. I had to find out on my own.”
“People do keep calling me Darkshadow on accident. I hate all these mysteries.”
“What do you imagine your mom like?” He tilted the conversation.
“I don't know. I've had lots of time to think about it. I've imagined her as lots of different things over the years. She could have been anyone. And there are plenty of reasons Dad wouldn’t want to talk about her. Maybe he was in love with her, and she died tragically... or she's out there and something is keeping her from being able to see us... I’ve imagined her as pretty much everything there is to imagine a mother as. Any possible reason she has never been a part of my life. Sometimes she's a great hero, off defending far off places. Sometimes she's trapped in an alien jail in a different system. Sometimes she's a Companion, like Inara. I have a wild imagination. It provides a lot of possibilities.”
“You do have a great imagination.”
“I hope you find her someday.” Actually, he didn’t. He was pretty damn sure he knew who her mom was. And she didn’t want to know.
“Thank you, I should get back to my family, Ulysses and Cleo must be wondering where I am.” Aladdin nodded, and the two of them hugged. It seemed only appropriate. Aladdin had never expected to meet this girl, had never expected her to exist, and most of all had never expected to like her.
“I’m glad I met you Anya Hypercube.”
“I’m glad I met you, Jhe Aladdin.”
“One last thing,” Aladdin reached into his bag, and pulled out two more oranges. Anya grinned like just for this moment the stars shined just for her.
The cleaning crew the next morning was not pleased.
* * * *
“Well that was an interesting report.”
“I thought you’d want to know about this part immediately.” I told Hex, as she sat in her handcrafted Italian chair. She was drinking a cappuccino. Elegantly.
“I think I’ll assign Aladdin to their protection, Kinnet shouldn’t mind too much. He’ll probably think I’m just vying for a favorable rate on the next deal with the Accord.”
“Well I’m glad you’re being so kind.” She looked up from the data pad.
“I never said I wouldn’t use this to get a better shipping rate. I just hadn’t planned it till now.”
Of course, should have figured that.
“Tell the Hypercube’s Jhe Aladdin will be coming to stay to prevent any further attacks, get other agents at the other people at the Gala… But I think that whoever is doing this is following a trail. I don’t think this is about what it appears.”
I raised an eyebrow, but Hex was the Boss. I just hoped the Hypercubes were receptive.
Chapter 5: Memnoric Devices
Memnor was born under a set of stars you can’t even see from the skies of earth. So far away was the orb of rock, that when the Great Assimilation stumbled upon the world Memnor was spawned on, they barely believed they had made it. The skies were filled with black, and the stars themselves were sparse. Around the planet, no moons rotated over its skies, and its dim sun gave more warmth then daylight. When the outlines of Doitzel’s cruisers began to block out the stars, and the sun, Memnor stretched its tendril towards the sky, and unlike the rest of its kind, who reeled in confusion, and the emotion that passed for terror for them, it realized this was its chance. They crawled out of their holes, and stared at the sky, and Memnor crawled back down, and began to plot.
When Admiral Moloch landed, Memnor was ready. While the others were overwhelmed as Moloch and Doitzel walked over their soil and seemed to project an aura of Godhood, Memnor climbed a rock. The others rose from their holes in deference, and coiled at the feet of the men who walked over them. Memnor crested the rock, and rapt its talon against the rock. Doitzel looked at Memnor, and raised an eye brow, and Memnor focused as hard as it could to project a thought into the man’s mind. Doitzel pushed the thought away, and pushed back. Memnor felt its neural pathways overload with his mind, and it prostrated itself before him. Thing is, Memnor had made its point. When Doitzel gathered Memnor’s race together for his operations on other worlds, he appointed Memnor to be in charge.
Memnor soon organized its people into something they were good at: information gathering. They could rip out the memories of most other races by forcibly digging into their nervous systems and ‘hacking’ in, as Doitzel called it. Soon, Memnor had to grow new segments to store all the memories it was collecting. Before Doitzel’s armadas would besiege a world, Memnor would drop down an operative, and it would slither and slink and find some unsuspecting being, and jam into its nervous system. Sometimes, depending on the species, they had to be carved up a bit before that could happen. Memnor loved getting the new memories transferred, it would spend hours figuring out each new species thought patterns, and then collect more memories. Memnor held not just itself, but the collected wisdom of thousands of lives. Knowledge was power, and Memnor sought to be the most powerful it could.
But Memnor couldn’t meet its true potential, because when it came down to it, there would an end to Memnor’s life. And sure, it could transfer its memories to another of its kind, but that creature would not be Memnor. But as Memnor rose through the ranks, and became more important, it learned that there was another path, because as Memnor began to steal the memories of important beings within Doitzel’s Government the Great Assimilation, it learned that Doitzel was not limited by one body. This was a true moment of epiphany for Memnor, for Memnor knew that Doitzel was indeed a God then, and Memnor knew that that was not out of reach for itself either. The question was not if, but how, and Memnor began the search. After some targeted assassinations, subtle blackmailing, and that sort of thing, Memnor reached its place on the Council. Coiled with pride at its new seat, Memnor hoped to learn information it had been longing to learn for years… Information the council was blind to. Information the council was ignorant to
It soon became clear that the council were morons, and Memnor’s ambitions, intelligence, and knowledge outdid all of them. When Doitzel began his campaign into the Sol system, Memnor leaped at the chance to leave the dusty chambers of the Council and get back into the field, but of course, it mostly just sent its operatives and let them bring it memories back to it. Until, one of its operatives brought back something worth Memnor doing in person.
“Who is this being?” Memnor said, by touching one of its thin spines to one of its operative’s spines, and jolting electricity into it, the normal way of communicating. “It used to work with the Radical Doitzel.” Memnor perceived the being, and analyzed its physical characteristics , “The being is a ‘he’, like the Radical Doitzel, it is a binary-sex species. Though there seem to be some anomalous exceptions, I am still studying that.”
“This one, he, calls itself, Ameratsu.”
“Where did you find it?”
“It was sniping our soldiers on Earth.”
“It’s markings show it as Gongen.”
“It appears to have gone rogue, if you examine its memories you will find its reasoning.”
“Sorry, his reasoning.”
“Transfer me his memories.”
“I think you will want to look at its memories in person.”
Memnor did not need to question its subordinate, it knew its place, and it knew if that was important enough to tell Memnor to do. The Gongen man pursed its lips and expelled liquid on Memnor, the saliva from his mouth dripping off its exoskeleton. A strange reaction. Memnor slithered to the back of the chair the man was tied to, and moved up his spine, maybe Memnor would understand why he spit when it jacked into his brain? Its spines dug into his spine, and Ameratsu’s eyes looked like he wanted to scream louder than he ever had, but there was no noise, only silence.
* * * *
“Earth is being ravaged—there aren’t going to be people left there by the time Doitzel’s done!”
“Colonel, calm down. You may be in charge of the Special Forces division, but that doesn’t mean you can make the decisions around here.” The General was smoking, which struck Ameratsu as the kind of needless excess you could get away with when you had a desk job, didn’t need to keep your body the finest it could to make sure your men and women serving under you didn’t die.
“It means I should get a say.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Ameratsu grimaced, saluted, and walked out.
“How’d it go? Kitsune asked him, hiding the flask in her jacket as she did so.
“Bad. Tell the unit we’re going to Earth, General Xi be damned.”
“Are you serious? We’ll be court martialed.”
“We don’t exist. Try court martialing two decades of nonexistent black ops missions. The Government can deal with this.” Soon Ameratsu and the best snipers and assassins on Gongen were on an unmarked ex-XeLabs stealth ship towards Earth, they got through the blockade and-
“Enough, let’s go back earlier.” Ameratsu looked over at it, the thing, robed, but coiled, dark and silent.
“Who are you?”
“I’m no one. Now let’s go back in time.”
* * * *
“This will work,” Kalingkata said, “I’ll just hop into your brain, and we can hack the Shi tech through your mental Kizen powers.” Jade Darkshadow looked reluctant, but he talked her into it. When Jade broke the transceiver, and Kalingkata was stuck in her brain, Memnor knew it had found God.
“This is it, thank you Ameratsu. This is it.” Ameratsu didn’t remember that voice, it was out of place… It was….
Memnor slid its tendrils out of his spine. “We must keep this meeting secret, do you understand.”
“I do, Councilor Memnor.”
“Excellent. I will erase any memories this one had of you or I or this meeting, and you will put him back with his unit. You will also give him data on our troop movements, I’ll give him a memory of leaving camp to stalk one of our soldiers and getting the info out of it.”
“They are snipers, they will slaughter the whole unit we inform them of.”
“The losses are necessary. I am on the cusp of something important. Something larger then this war. He must have no suspicions this occurred. No one must wonder where he went.”
“I understand, Councilor.”
Memnor, if it could smile, would have. The secret to being Immortal, to shifting bodies, was no alone to Doitzel. It was in this Kalingkata and this Jade to.
It would need to research….
* * * *
The interrogations were long, and spanned worlds. It found out secrets even the people who were involved in the secrets didn’t know. It found out lies, and treachery. And it found out that Jade was dead, but not dead, and Kalingkata and her were on the most heavily guarded safest ship in the universe. Memnor could not steal memories from there. It had tried, and it had failed. It raged in frustration, till it learned more secrets, stealing them in the night, and old fashioned archive searching. It had a list of names.
One of them was Jhe Aladdin, Kalingkata’s son, who seemed tied to Jade somehow.
The rest of them, in their entirety, all had the last name Hypercube.
And that, made Memnor’s job so much easier.
Chapter 6: Four Chess Games
Two weeks ago...
Chess Mistress Hex wasn't usually puzzled by board games, ever. Leave it to her first ever intern to confuse her. "Aladdin, dear, I don't understand this Chess variant. It doesn't make sense."
"It does, you just have to realize what the point of playing the game is." Hex didn't reveal her frustration, she smiled sweetly. She had no idea what the point of all of this was, but Aladdin had brewed up some of the best tea she'd ever drunk, and she knew they'd play some regular chess after they finished the five games of this she'd promised him, so she at least was enjoying herself, as much as Chess Mistress Hex enjoyed herself... But that didn't change the fact that this was one of the oddest Chess variants she had ever played. She'd think it was just poorly made, if Aladdin hadn't had a fully written out rule set and had been musing about strategy the whole time they'd been playing.
Aladdin took her rook, "Viva!" He said. "Viva." She muttered.
"Aladdin dear, let’s play something else?" He nodded, she was his boss. He looked out the window at the stars, somewhere out there was a much better person to play Red Breaker Chess with. He should know. He'd played them.
Two and a half years ago...
Aladdin and Greed debated loudly about which one of them invented Red Breaker Chess, but the truth was they had both invented it together when they were kids when Greed's dad accidently destroyed some of the pieces on their chessboard. Setting up the board again, with gaping holes in their military lines, it was clear the game wouldn't be fair as it was pretty much guaranteed black would win, so a new game was forged with the following rules:
-Players only get one of every non-pawn piece. Each one of those pieces may be placed in either of the two spots one could be for that player.
-All empty squares are to be filled with metal slugs (you can use other things, but if you use credit chips expect them to be stolen) which all count as pawns.
-The king has a special ability that can be used no more than twice per game per king. This ability allows the king to move as though he were a queen for that turn, though if the player chooses he may also move the King as though he were a knight. When this ability is activated all pawns for both players permanently may move an extra square. This stacks every time the ability is used, to a maximum of 5 squares of movement.
-If there are no pieces left aside from pawns (and pieces pawns transformed into) and kings, both players lose and the pawns hold a revolution and overthrow the monarchy.
Aladdin and Greed had become masters of this game, though most other people thought it was silly.
"The game doesn't work, you made it too easy for both players to lose and the pawns to win their Revolution." Lalita Mashima had said one day when Greed had visited Gongen, and the three of them had spent the day slumming around cafes.
"That’s the point." Greed said, as though Lalita had tried to point out that the problem with peanut butter was it tasted like peanut butter.
"It doesn't make much game sense though. You both lose the game half the time."
Aladdin moved his metal slug forward three spaces, "It doesn't have to. We made the game for ourselves to play, we're not going to sell it on Earth or anything. If we have fun both losing, isn't that good enough?"
Lalita looked at the board as Greed made his next move, and sipped her cappuccino. "I just don't get it. It’s a stupid game Aladdin, and a bad one." Aladdin shrugged, he doubted he'd ever find a girl who understood why Greed and he had made the game this way.
Two Years-ish later...
"Oh my God this is the greatest game I've ever played in my life!" Nightingale started setting up the board again without even asking if Aladdin wanted to play again; he was really tired.
"I'm glad you're enjoying i-"
"It’s so brilliant! I want to lose every time! And it’s in the rules there’s a revolution and they kill the kings or send them to deserted islands or whatever, and the people are free and we need to play again." Nightingale looked happier then he'd seen her.... Practically ever.
"Let’s play again. You can go first." Aladdin moved a pawn forward. Nightingale did the same. "You know, I don't think anyone has really appreciated this game outside of Greed and me before, well, Backgammon Jenny I guess."
Nightingale looked up from her board examination. "You know someone named Backgammon Jenny?"
"She's a Maverick."
"I'm not surprised."
"She works for my dad, she's his persona assistant, secretary... Something. Basically she runs the nest when he isn't there." Aladdin moved his bishop so Nightingale could slaughter it next turn, "I've known her since I was little because of that. I've always wondered why she went to work for my dad, or why he hired her."
"It’s not too uncommon for people to get jobs." Nightingale chirped, as she destroyed centuries of government control of religion to aid in political subjugation with her pawn.
"I mean, they met when she went to go kill my dad. Apparently he told her something that changed her mind. Changed it so much she started working for him."
"That must have been one heckuva story."
Greed opened the door, "Dinner is in half an hour... Our game?"
"It’s the best game ever."
"See, Nightingale gets it. You should hit on her rather then that Lalita chick. Peace." He shut the door. There was a pregnant silence.
"So... Chess?" Aladdin said as he blushed.
"Old girlfriend." Nightingale moved her night into sacrifice position, and Aladdin proceeded to destroy the idolization of the military used to support inhumane social structures.
"How many people have even played this game?" Aladdin was so grateful for the change in subject.
"Not too many, though we did put the rules on the internet once. So maybe more then I think." Nightingale smiled, hopefully someone else out there understood it like they did.
* * * *
Anya and Ulysses Hypercube sat on the living room floor and stared at the board.
"This was our third game, and we've both lost every time."
Ulysses shook his head, "This is a weird game. I don't really get it."
"Neither do I." Anya went over to the game cabinet, "Let’s play something else. Monopoly? Risk? Scrabble?"
"I could do that. That's the game with the Doubling Cube right?"
Anya grinned, "I always like to think of it as the Hypercube."
Chapter 7: A Desolation of Hypercubes
Geraldine ‘JackBox’ Hypercube was mad as hell, and her husband was hearing all about it.
“NO! I am not having Jhe Aladdin in my house, Michelangelo! I refuse!”
“Well, he already met your son, and they seem to be getting along well.” Geraldine glared at him like a Gorgon. "Geraldine, there is way too much at stake to not let the Gambler help us."
"Then have The Gambler send someone else!"
"You know that isn't how this works; the Gambler isn't going to just... Let us appeal for different terms when she offers us help. He isn't that kind." Geraldine scowled. Michelangelo held her gaze, and the staring contest could have been professional. "You know how much I don't want this. Anya and Ulysses might learn things from that boy, things they can't unlearn." He ran his fingers through his immaculate hair, and sighed, "They might, they might not, but I won't leave our kids in unnecessary danger because you won't accept the Gambler's pet. Radical Doitzel isn't a joke; he'll tear through us, one by one, like he tried to start with Cleopatra. Do you want to see Boudicca dead? Leonidas? Eowyn? Z-"
"I get it alright!" Geraldine walked over to the sink. The metal was polished so that she could see a blurry outline of herself in its basin, turning the tap on she watched the image jar further, till her own face was lost in the flow of water, which she sunk her hands into and splashed onto her face. Her reflection dripped back into the basin.
"Fine." She said, as the water sunk down the drain, "I'll let you bring Jhe Aladdin here. But on your head be it."
* * * *
Anya ran her metal hand through her hair, letting it blow back into the wind, and into Beowulf's face. She was speeding, technically, which her mostly-twin Ulysses would frown on if he was here, but he wasn't, and he her turned into streamers in the open speeder, declaring this road to be Hypercube territory, she grinned, well, at least it was Anya Hypercube's territory.
"Can we slow down?" Kriemheld asked, hesitantly. Her hair was bound back in a bandanna, and she had to hold it on with her hands as the wind caught on it like a sail. "Do I have to?" Kriemheld's response, which was to simply widen her eyes to the point that you might think she didn't have eyelids, was enough. With a sigh, Anya slowed the speeder down, and puttered her way to the spaceport. Kriemheld was going through a phase, and dressing super modestly, wearing layers of clothes and fingerless gloves, high collars and head coverings. Anya wasn't sure what was up with it, but considering how mavericks usually dressed, it was downright weird. Beowulf was just glad his sister's hair wasn't in his face, and he had gotten out of being a wingman for Gilgamesh's date with his new boyfriend.
At the spaceport a young Gongen man in a very nice pinstripe blue suit was looking very intently as a computer on his arm; it spoke back to him with a voice as old as centuries, and Aladdin listened. A woman sat next to him with a made up name, and she just stared at her hand as she clenched and unclenched it, the mechanisms moving to pull the fingers, signals moving through connections, and she was unsure if she was flesh or machine. Far above all of them the stars moved, and dodged holes in reality, while fleets that dwarfed nations slaughtered and re slaughtered each other in endless succession. This was the scene, this was the time, this was how Memnor had planned it, and this is how the desolation of Hypercubes would begin.
* * * *
Aladdin waved at the speeder, and the blonde woman inside smiled at him and swirled the speeder to a halt that was have joy channeled through driving, and half clear showing off. Aladdin smiled, good to finally see a friendly face. "Aladdin!" she yelled, stepping over the door as she speeder slowed its final few inches, inside what were clearly two of her younger siblings very slowly unbuckled themselves. "Anya, how've you been? I'm glad to have been assigned here." Anya hugged him, "don't sound so formal, you're about to live with the Hypercubes, formality is forbidden by law."
"That’s pretty extreme."
"When in Rome-Plex."
"Revolt?" Anya was not expecting that answer, "Or, do like the Romans."
"Revolt still sounds better."
"I think you've had some weird influences."
"Only the best."
"Are you going to introduce us or what?" Beowulf was messing with a yo-yo, spinning it and pulling it up to bounce lightly against his brown leather jacket, Aladdin could make out what looked like a "Carnival Reich" t-shit under it. He'd heard that band before, but never really liked them. "Oh, sorry! Jhe Aladdin, this is Beowulf Hypercube." Beowulf kind of limply shook Aladdin's hand, "hey."
"Pleasure to meet you."
"And this is my sister Kriemheld." Aladdin held out his hand, she just sort of smiled and let his hand hang in the air, "er, don't worry about her she's going through a phase."
"So I see."
"It’s not a phase, Anya."
"Fine, it’s not a phase, just help Aladdin get his stuff in the car." They did, and as they loaded, there was a twitching in the shadows, like the last remnants of rigor mortis.
* * * *
Geraldine 'JackBox' Hypercube knew her daughter was speeding, and she didn't care. She didn't care that that was dangerous, she didn't care that she'd specifically told Anya not to do that not that long ago. Geraldine was too busy looking at the boy in the passenger seat, the boy who, if he took off his glasses looked exactly like someone she'd tried very hard to forget. "Mom, I can see them coming."
"Yes, Ule, I can to." She could see them singing something indistinguishable. She couldn't help but think of Nine Inch Nails; she couldn't help but think of looking over at a boy as his eyes focused on a circuit board, and how weird it was to feel her heart jump when she saw him make the connection in his head. She couldn't help but hate the boy in the car.
Anya pulled up, she'd mastered the technique of parking the car and walking over the door as it finished its final bit of deceleration by counting the pulses of the grav dampeners for timing, and she couldn't help but do it every time she parked the car. The boy opened the door like a normal person, and adjusted his glasses, which Geraldine could tell from a distance were non-functional. What a fop, and very unlike his dad, at least.
"Welcome to the Hypercube household!" Michelangelo said, opening his muscular arms wide, his arms taking in the vastness of the estate of the street urchins. The boy's face bloomed into a smile, "glad to be here, Jhe Aladdin." Michelangelo shook his hand, and Aladdin complimented him on something, wittily, and the strong man laughed. Geraldine didn't note what was said, she just stared at Aladdin.
"And this is my wife, Geraldine Hypercube," Michelangelo smiled at her, a pleading one, one that spoke decades of "I know," and years of, "I'm sorry."
"A pleasure." She said, and let his hand hang there like her daughter had. Aladdin was struck with the sudden impression something in the X chromosomes of this family precluded hand shaking.
"Great! That went well." It what?, Aladdin thought, "now let me introduce you to my children, Anya, Ulysses, Zoroaster, Cleopatra, Leonidas, Hypatia, Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Kriemheld, Brunhild, Murasaki, Eowyn, Valentinez and Boudicca."
There was a moment of very comic timing, before Aladdin said, "Can you repeat that a few times?"
It should be noted, that for those readers curious, Aladdin made a joke about the strength of Michelangelo's handshake and if he gripped his paintbrushes that way. This holds no bearing to the plot, but we felt it should be noted regardless.
* * * *
The Hypercube estate consists of one very large mansion, with more rooms then even a family with fourteen children knows what to do with, a swimming pool, several statues that came with the mansion that much of the family is unsure what they are even depictions of, all scattered across a large and largely unkempt lawn. The flowers and the vegetable garden are well tended, but after years of family members passing off who would mow the lawn, and a general agreement they shouldn't get servants to do it, the lawn gets taken care of so irregularly, that when it does get done, sometimes the family takes great amusement in cutting down the prairie that’s grown with swords, much to the consternation of the neighbors. The estate also contains a second, much smaller, but very chic house. This was the house of the only person to complain about the Hypercube's messy household to the homeowners association. Geraldine and Michelangelo bought out the homeowners association, and then bought the home of the guy next door, who had always been creepy anyways. The mansion, being a mansion has many nooks and crannies for private reading sessions, something Hypatia loves about her home, and something Leonidas uses to make out with his constant stream of boy and girlfriends. Beowulf has been trying to take after his older brother's example, but only with girls, and has found himself frustratingly shy.
There is also a tennis court, racket ball room, a full size gymnasium, and a movie theatre in the basement. Some days Michelangelo and Geraldine still wake up in their king size bed, look out the window at all that they own now, and think that they must be dreaming, and that the nightmares they still have about the men who used them and sold their bodies as children are still the reality. Then the dawn sets in, and they realize that no, this is real, and this is good, and they will bite the throats out of anyone who tries to take this away from them.
* * * *
"This will be your room, Aladdin." Anya sat down on the bed, and bounced up and down on it by rocking her heels. "It’s a good room, it used to Anya and mine; before we got old enough we wanted separate rooms." Aladdin scanned the walls, which still held the pale rectangles from where posters had shielded the walls from fading. Aegenor looked around unimpressed, very unimpressed. "I'm honored to be staying here."
"Honors a pretty Gongen word, I thought you were Cartel." Ulysses added, or asked.
"My dad runs the Nest." he responded.
"That.... Doesn't actually explain that."
"My dad's from Gongen."
"Gotcha, hey, so's mine." Anya laughed, "oh yeah, you two have so much in common. You can switch jobs tomorrow, Aladdin can do the lifting, Ulysses can do the hacking."
"I'm more than just a bunch of muscle you know." She stuck her tongue out, she knew.
"I'm... Definitely not a bunch of muscle." Anya looked between her brother and Aladdin, she could see a resemblance, but well, that was just that they both had Gongen in them, which really was an unfair thing to think. After all, she looked like that Jade Darkshadow lady, but she wasn't related to her.
Aegenor stood silently in the doorframe. She didn't look like anyone, and her momma and poppa had done nothing but drugs and abandon her. "I've got a great room picked out for you Aegenor; we'll leave the boys to discuss boy things, like doing their hair."
Aladdin and Ulysses both realized at that moment exactly how much hair product they both had in, and as Anya led Aegenor away by the hand, they laughed,
"Well, I guess we do have something in Common."
Anya flipped the lights on in Aegenor's new room. It wasn't what Aegenor had been expecting. There was a big window that looked out across the lawn, and a pair of big comfy chairs sat in front of it, on a lush carpet that led to a large curtained bed. There was a statue of some old Roman God, or something (Hermes) who was flying exuberantly, and some other art on the walls.
"-it’s the second Master bedroom. The old owner had a spare, for some reason, and we've kept it around. I thought you might like it." Anya watched Aegenor's face, which moved from awe, to joy, to a forced stillness.
"Er, yeah, it’s... Alright. Its, yeah." When Anya made people happy like this, she couldn't help but grin sometimes. "Well then, make yourself at home. We casa ist du casa." Aegenor was pretty sure that wasn't right. "Thanks, I'll, just, unpack and stuff." Aegenor waited till Anya had left the room, closed the door, and walked over to the bed. She lay down on the covers; they felt smooth, even against the buggy sensors on her arm. She grabbed a pillow, and held onto it tightly, squeezing it, it was soft, maybe the softest thing she'd ever felt. Aegenor shut her eyes and tried to close in the tears, but it was a worthless effort. She's never slept anywhere like here in her life, and probably, never would again.
* * * *
Desolation is a proper noun. It is proper not in that it is the name of a man, though in maverick space it probably (and definitely) is, but it is proper in that when describing what one intends to do to a small group of people when one will wipe them all out, Desolation is the world. Decimation means ten percent, which is too low. Genocide is too broad, and one family is not a race or culture no matter their breadth or quirks. Desolation is the word, and Desolate is what they would become to Memnor.
Through the night lit prairies squirmed long, spiny, plated snakes without head nor tail slinked and slithered. The Gods whose names the family had long ago forgotten looked down on them, and let them pass, as they had for the Vandals and Goths in old Rome before. The swimming pool and the tennis court, while opulent, provided no real obstacle for the invaders, and the home of the Hypercube's snot nosed enemy proved to be nothing more than a place for Memnor to sit, and recollect, as the coils that were bound it coursed towards the home the Hypercubes had built, their hands above the soil, and their hearts finally free from pain, which was a fascinating emotion. Memnor trembled at its own wisdom, for all of its plans were in fruition, and all of its coils were soon to make new friends.
* * * *
Aladdin stared up at the ceiling, it was a nice ceiling, and one that Anya and Ulysses had slept under for years. There were the leftover marks of sticker stars on the ceiling, and he could still figure out some of the constellations they had slept under. Anya and Ulysses.
Jade and Aladdin. He couldn't help but see the ties and the knots.
There was something going on more than what was obvious, some sort of cosmic puppet show with him as a centerpiece there was--
Someone knocking on the door.
Aladdin pulled his covers away, and was instantly unhappy to feel the cold night air rather than the hug of blankets. He staggered to the door, swaying and grumbling, and opened it up. Aegenor was there.
"I want to sleep with you."
"Not like that you sicko. This house is just really big, and my room is too nice." Aladdin didn't really understand, and he wasn't really awake, but, "sure, okay, sure, yeah." He opened the door, let her in, and left it open because even at this hour he was smart enough to know he didn't want to look lewd. What hour was it, even?
"There’s a... Bed." Aladdin pointed at the bed that had clearly not been slept in on the other side of the small room. "Yes, you're super observant." Aegenor slipped into the covers, they hadn't been cleaned in some time, and they felt old and rough. That was comforting somehow, but also that it was comforting was... Unsettling. Aladdin had already gotten back into bed, and looked to fading fast into dreams.
"You ever think about like, why the fuck we're here? You know, like God and stuff."
"Like, if there is a God, why does bad shit happen? You know? Like, and if there isn't why shouldn't bad shit happen?"
"Fehree Whill, ahnd, stuff...."
"I guess that makes sense, like, you know, if God gave us choices, then like, we're the ones making them, but that’s true if there isn't a God either." Aegenor's eyes lit up, "Whoa, and what if there is more than one God, like, two? Or more? Or something? Like how do we know?"
"I duhno.... Faith or... stuff."
"Yeah, belief has to matter to, but, like...." There was a sound. Aladdin bolted up, "did you hear that?"
"Something is wrong. I know that sound. Listen." Aegenor did. It was the sound of tiny needles pricking and sticking on metal and ceramics... Like the thing in the machine.
"Yes, only not, but yes." Aladdin swiftly stumbled out of bed, and grabbed a gun from his bag. "We need to move quickly. Really quickly. Everyone is in danger."
* * * *
Ulysses dreamed of the Ocean. He'd always wanted to see one, sometimes he dreamed of the wine dark sea his namesake had sailed on, with a troupe of men who would follow him, and a woman waiting back home. Tonight was no different, until there was the sting on his spine.
"Keep rowing, I can see land up ahead." Ulysses squinted, that was the island of the Cyclops. He always thought he could handle that better then Odysseus did; now he could prove it. His ship found land, and he and his loyal Greeks stepped out on the sand, only to find a black robed figure with no face to be seen, nor hands nor feet. The ground seemed to grow veins of shadow where it stood.
"Hello, Ulysses. I am Memnor. I want your memories." Ulysses was not sure where this dream was going. "I... What would you give me for them?"
"Nothing. I'm taking them. Right now."
In the dream, he screamed. In reality, his body convulsed as the tendril tapped into his spinal cord and hacked his brain. But in reality, he was totally silent.
* * * *
Aladdin and Aegenor rushed down the hallway in their Pajamas, towards the noises. Aladdin pointed at a door, and Aegenor smashed it open, revealing Ulysses Hypercube, spasming on his bed, a long gray tendril slid beneath his shirt over his spine, pulsing. Aegenor and Aladdin wasted no time; they opened fire. The thing barely seemed to notice, except where the shots hit the folds in its exoskeleton.
"Shoot for the bends!" Aegenor needed no second order. By the time they had finished firing, the thing had been cut apart into dozens of still writhing segments, Aladdin rushed over them and pulled up Ule's shirt, where the bit of it that was still attached writhed. Fei would probably have told him to wait, but now wasn't the time for thinking Aladdin grabbed the thing and began to pull, "I can't get it!" Aegenor assisted, and the grey blue spiny tendrils slid out from Ule's spine, as they tried to bend and move to a hold again; they threw the thing on the floor and shot it till it stopped moving. Ulysses moaned, Aladdin and Aegenor panted and looked at each other, "we need to get everyone up." Aegenor nodded, "Can do." It was simple enough, Aegenor screamed.
Aegenor supported Ulysses as they ran from room to room. Aladdin was pulling Eowyn from her bed when Anya, rubbing sand from her eyes, approached, "what’s going on?"
"The house is under attack. Get your siblings up." Anya looked at Ulysses, he looked terrible, drained, exhausted... and there were weird holes on his back. Aegenor kicked another door in... And then Aladdin pulled out a gun. Anya took a step back, as he opened fire through the doorway, as did Aegenor, and then he leapt in, and pulled out a crying Valentinez. "Don't worry, he's okay, they didn't touch him."
"The same things from the party." Anya finished waking up, she finished connecting the dots. "Oh Bowie no."
"Get everyone up." She ran. She opened doors; she pulled her siblings from their beds. "Boudicca get up!"
"I don't want to."
"Get up!" Anya shook her, and Boudicca just turned over in her warrior princess sheets; that was when Anya noticed something moving under the bedcovers. Something slithering, something dangerous, something that thought Anya was unarmed.
Her nails flicked out of her hand, sharper then razors, and the slithering thing became many things, that were doing less slithering. Boudicca, naturally, was utterly terrified. The ribbons of her sheets revealed glimpses of the shelled tendril, ending in a single thing like a claw, all lined with thin spines. Anya whipped her nails back in, and picked Boudicca up. "Come on sis, we'll get you a new bedroom." Anya carried her into the hallway, where the gang was all there: fourteen Hypercubes and Aladdin and Aegenor. The kids were a mess of emotions, some were crying, some were acting tough, some were just.... staring. Aladdin was telling them to stick together, "we need to go to somewhere defensible with thick walls."
"The Racquetball court!" Aladdin at any other time would have asked why there was a Racquetball court, but not was not the time at all, great, lets--"
"What the hell is going on?" Geraldine and Michelangelo were charging down the hall.
"Jhe Aladdin you put that gun down in front of my children, and you, Aegenor, let go of my son."
"Geraldine, you don't understand-"
"Oh I understand just fine Anya, this boy is trying to threaten our family, and I won't-"
The slithering thing jumped.
Aladdin hadn't realized it could do that, maybe it hadn't even. Geraldine and Michelangelo's mouths opened like screams, but they were ever so silent as they fell to the floor.
* * * *
JackBox held Kalingkata's hand on the cold street, the cigarette they were sharing wasn't quite warm enough, and neither was his hand, so she moved closer, and wrapped her arm around him. He reciprocated the gesture, and looked down at her, "This is why I keep you around."
"For warmth?" He kissed her on the forehead, "Let’s go get some beer, you want some beer?"
"You don't even like beer."
"I like you.
"Bowie, you are such a cheese whiz."
"No beer then, milkshakes?" She gently shoved him forward, "Milkshakes." Kalingkata paused, and the cigarette ash fell as he spoke, "who is that?"
JackBox didn't recognize it. It didn't belong in her memories.
"Hello, Geraldine, I'm Memnor."
"Get out of here," she threw something, but it was like her dream forgot it had been thrown in midair. "You aren't a part of this."
"Oh, I am now. And all of these memories are just as much yours as mine. Thank you for them. I think they'll do me a lot of good."
* * * *
Michelangelo held Jade close, her leg curled around him as she drifted off to sleep, her arm on his chest. One of his arms was wrapped around her, the other he ran through her hair. She was perfect, he thought. How lucky was he that such a powerful, clever, beautiful woman was sharing a bed with him? Would eat breakfast with him in the morning. He admired her features, and her eyes blinked open, "something up?"
"Just, looking at you?"
"Is there something wrong.”?
"No, you're perfect Jade."
"Oh, alright. Nothing new then."
"It’s new to me." Another voice said. Michelangelo turned his head, there at the foot of the bed was a creature wreathed in black, robed in darkness. "Get the hell out of here! How did you get into my bedroom?"
"I'm in more than your bedroom. What a nice companion you have there." Michelangelo reached under the pillow, and pointed a Spassy at the thing.
"Get the hell out."
"No. Your life is mine, well, all that makes it your life. I'm Memnor by the way, so rude to not introduce myself. Your memories are mine. Thank you for your history."
There was no gun. There was only the creature, and the sucking at the tap of his mind.
* * * *
Aladdin and Anya sprung. Maybe sprung wasn't the right word, there was no pause, no hesitation, no acceleration. They moved from nothing to lighting in an instant, jumping on Geraldine and Michelangelo, slashing and shooting, carefully, artfully, angrily. The things in their spines screeched as they died, as Anya and Aladdin ripped and burned them apart, and took the remaining bits out of their spines. They kept cutting and slashing long after the things stopped moving. Aladdin looked at Anya, and their gaze met, blurred with sweat on both ends like a sink basin. "Are they okay?"
Aladdin nodded, "they should be. I think... I think I've figured this out. I think I know what’s going on." Anya panted, "what then?"
"We have to move, get everyone to the safe room."
"There are more coming?" Cleo said, her face pale and empty, Zoroaster rubbed her back, but didn't look much better. "Yeah, but I have a plan. If I'm right, well, it will work."
"And if you're wrong?" Anya waited for an answer as Aladdin handed Geraldine's limp form to Leonidas to carry.
"We're going to the safe room."
The sound of scraping slithers followed them as they moved. If they had been ambushed on the way there, it would have gone awfully. By the time they reached the Racquetball court, all of the littlest kids wouldn't walk because of crying, and with them and Ulysses, Geraldine, and Michelangelo needing carrying, no one had a free fighting hand. But they did make it, to a thick walled room with only one entrance. "Zoroaster, Cleo, take charge of the kids, I need to talk to Aladdin."
"Zoro, seriously." He nodded, Cleo just kind of... Floated along with him.
"What is your plan, Aladdin? I've never done anything like this before."
"I have. I think those things hack into your brain through your nervous system." Anya shook her head, her hair flying everywhere as she did so, "that’s impossible, you can't hack a brain."
"Yes, you can. My dad did it. These guys have that hardwired into their biology. They want something in our minds."
"That’s ridiculous, there's nothing that we know that would help Doitzel in this war, our shipping routes aren't a secret, they're on our website!"
Aladdin looked her in the eyes, and bit his lip, "I don't want to tell you something I might be wrong about. But I have a theory."
"Tell me your theory then!"
"No." The scraping sound appeared again. It started getting louder. And louder.
"Then at least tell me your plan!"
"I'm going to let them hack me. All of them." Anya didn't usually think of people as being idiots, she liked the benefit of the doubt, but Aladdin was an idiot.
"You're an idiot!"
"This isn't my first time doing this." Aladdin stripped off his pajama shirt, and handed Anya his gun. "If I'm wrong, you won't be able to yell at me." Anya grabbed for him, but for a moment she realized she wasn't sure he was there, like he was a ghost... Then there he was outside the door, surrounded by a chorus of coils that screeched along the floor. Dozens of the tendrils. She aimed the gun. Behind her, Aegenor seemed to have not seen Aladdin for even longer, and pulled out her gun nearly in surprise. The tendrils circled Aladdin, and then they latched on one by one, digging into his flesh. Aladdin didn't look like he was screaming though, he was grinning, grinning like Yorrick.
* * * *
The tendrils did not all have names. Memnor was them in a way, for his mind was channeled through their bodies, but only in the same way a movie is projected from film, he was still in the projector, so to seek. The tendrils each had their own mind, and each one felt a surprise. Before, they had latched on, and Memnor had interceded and won their battles for them, breaking into the mind of their victim like an expert safe cracker. But Memnor hadn't gotten in. Someone had dead bolted the door, and he couldn't project through. And Aladdin was laughing at them. They tried to dig into their holes, like they did at home, but they found that Aladdin had found them there, he had dug their nice snug dens into caverns, where they fell from their entrance hole to the floor like mice over a ledge.
"Hello creature." The tendril didn't want to respond, this man was not supposed to be in its mind, that was not how this was supposed to work!
"I've found your memories, and what’s funny, is that’s why you were here isn't it?" He couldn't know that! He was bluffing, each of the it’s thought to itself. He had to be bluffing. "You think I'm bluffing?" he thought. "Okay, two can play at that game." The tendrils were then all at the meeting the one where Memnor had presented his plan to overtake Doitzel, the one they were working on right now. The one Aladdin knew. "Well thank you that was very helpful wasn't it."
We'll kill you, each thought, we'll make you pay, we'll tear you and your friends apart, plan or no plan. Aladdin grew grim, like a djinn wronged. "You will do no such thing."
The tendrils laughed, he was so full of Hubris, this one, he was so... Deep in their minds. He shouldn't be there... He shouldn't...
One by one the tendrils dropped off of Aladdin to the floor, asleep. One by one they were carried by one Hypercube or another to the house's furnace, where they stopped squirming. Aladdin opened his eyes, to see his body riddled with tiny bloody pin prick holes, and a circle of Hypercubes, as well as a shocked Aegenor, who looked a bit disgusted with his state of being.
"Is everyone alright? Am I a Christmas tree?"
Geraldine hugged him, ignoring the blood she got on herself in the process, she whispered in his ear as she did so, "you're in all the best ways like your father." Aladdin didn't know exactly how she knew his dad, but he appreciated the compliment.
* * * *
Memnor was curled up in a ring on the floor of the unused Hypercube guest house. It was always intriguing how a plan could both entirely succeed and fail at the same time. Technically all of the mission parameters had been met, it had received all of the memories it needed for its plan, though not all the memories it had been after, getting Aladdin and Anya would have been preferable, but this was good enough. Less good was Aladdin being able to resist the others of Memnor's kind somehow. That was... Troubling. The only other beings capable of such a feat were Doitzel and his closest advisors. If a teenage human could do it, there was something unusual about him, or it would be finding more humans like this that it could not infiltrate the minds of readily. Memnor began to uncoil, and slide to its escape route. What was most important was that it had the memories. The amount of evidence left behind was troubling; after all, Memnor had wanted a desolation of Hypercubes, a dead trail where Doitzel couldn't find out its plans. But no matter, no plan went perfectly, and Memnor would adapt. When Memnor was Doitzel, it wouldn't have to worry about Hypercubes; after all, being a God is greater than being geometry.
Chapter 8: Cubic Families
Backgammon Jenny wasn't as young as she used to be. She was still young, still spry. The boys still looked at her, and the girls. But Jenny was no longer Jhe Aladdin as a woman, running around the solar system, having adventures, meeting new people, teaming up with pirates... She'd done it all at one point or another, and then she met Mr. Jhe, and everything changed. She'd meant to kill him, and instead here she was watching the usual suspects filter in and out of the nest, and she would slink through their ranks, combing the interesting ones for new data, weaving her web of knowledge. Dooley had built the Nest, Kalingkata had turned it into a force to be remembered, and Backgammon Jenny was refining it. Under her what had been a much more functional and effective group under Kalingkata had turned into a group that was actually functional and effective. Kalingkata had never really been that interested in the day to day running of the nest, he was a hacker and an inventor at heart, not an information broker. In a lot of ways Jenny was letting him fulfill his dream, and in even more ways Kalingkata was accidentally letting her fulfill hers.
"I've got something sweet for you Jenny. Sweet indeed." She turned, ah, Black Mix Ben, one of the regulars. Usually reliable, but often had some pretty out there stuff, so he always had to be double checked on the off chance. "I've got some news on your boss’s boy, the one he's been loaning out to the Gambler."
"And how would you know about that?" Black Mix smiled, revealing his black stained teeth, which were dull against the hot dance lights that pounded his mocha skin.
"I work for you, it’s my job to know things, I know it." That was the problem with running a spy ring, every damn person you knew was a spy. "Fine, whatever Ben. What’s the news?"
"I'm keeping this on the DL, just for you Jenny dear-"
"-oh. Look how flattered and stuff I am. Yay.-"
"-but it looks like Aladdin got assigned to protect the Hypercubes." Now that was news. Huge news. Huger then she hoped Ben even realized. She limited her reaction to raising an eye brow. "Indeed?" Ben nodded, "yeah, no idea why the Cartel would want to send protection to somebody who is competition. Weird as hell if you ask me." Good. It was weirder then he knew. "Strange indeed. I'll pass that along."
"Not done, see, turns out they needed the muscle, they got hit last night, some sort of attack on their house." Now that was an attention getter.
"Yeah, looks like, from the rumors about what the things that attacked looked like. Rumor had it one of them ruined a gala the Gambler threw not too long ago. Seems the targets must have been the Hypercubes as I can confirm Cleopatra Hypercube was invited, and Ulysses and Anya Hypercube showed up and met Aladdin-"
"-wait, you're telling me they met Aladdin?" Black Mix had no idea why this was important, but he rolled with it, "yeah, met him, talked to him, broke some laws about fountain usage."
"And he didn't shoot her?"
"...Not that I'm aware of."
"I'm leaving. You keep the rumors running while I'm gone. Something has come up and it’s important." Black Mix looked around the dance floor, where some "Carnival Reich" song was playing and a maverick girl was doing some sort of intense dance the crowd was enthralled with. "Can do. You going to tell me what’s up?"
"No. But I'm taking one of the Battleships. If Mr. Jhe has a problem with that, he can tell that to his wife." She didn't look back as she walked out, and Black Mix Ben really had no idea what had just happened, but there was music, dancing, and info to find.
"Hey friend," he stopped a passing man, looked to be ex-Earther, "You fresh from Earth?"
"No... Yes... how'd you..."
"Sit down, have yourself a drink, I've got some questions for you. Foods on me."
* * * *
A Hypercube family dinner is quite the thing to see, especially when the Hypercubes are celebrating being alive. Usually, the dinner is about what you'd expect when 16 people sit down together to eat a huge meal. However, today there were 18 people and some of them were unquestionably heroes. Michelangelo couldn't help but to keep getting up and tosselling Anya, Aladdin, and Aegenor's hair one after the other while saying, "you guys!" or "Anya, you clever girl," or other such short happy phrases. Everyone was still shaken up from the whole thing, after all it wasn't every day that a horde of segmented mind hacking aliens breaks into your house to steal your memories and murder your children, but that made the festivities even more important: if a Hypercube could remind themselves of why life was worth living, it always made the bad things easier. The massive amounts of food on for the table's 18 occupants turned out to definitely be worth living for, as were the Shenanigans. Michelangelo told the story about the time he decided to actually try taking up painting, which ended with surprisingly disastrous by hilarious results, Geraldine told a story about how she once tried to replace her cybernetic arm with one she'd found in a dumpster from a body builder, and how she walked around with an oversized chunk of metal made to look like rippling muscle that punched like it too for about half a month before she got tired of how she kept tipping over because of it. Aladdin felt at home, passing Murasaki the mashed Yams, and watching Anya joke with her sister Hypatia, and Aegenor, amidst the family jubilation, felt more alone then ever amidst the unbroken, and unbowing family. And somehow, her bitterness rose more than she thought it could have, till she waited alone in her plush room for dreams to take her that night, and felt nothing but dissatisfaction.
"Well talking to Schocho isn't that hard, he's just like any other guy, but a computer, and on my forearm." Anya didn't think that was an entirely satisfactory answer. "But doesn't he mind being on your forearm?"
"Not really, he seems fine with it." Valentinez was standing below his arm, seemingly transfixed on it, amazed there was a thinking thing inside it.
"Aladdin, can I speak with you for a moment?", there was Geraldine, holding a champagne glass in her metal hand, gently swirling it, her brown hair shifting gently in the wind on the balcony. She was in her 40's, like his dad, but she dressed daily like a punk princess, and she pulled it off. Her electronic right eye zeroed in on him.
"Sure, what’s up?"
"In private." Anya looked at her mom confusedly, and grabbed Valentinez's hand to lead him away. When the door was shut to the balcony, and the night left only Geraldine and Aladdin alone in the wind, she spoke again.
"You know, I'd say you look just like your father, but you don't. Key differences, you've got a longer face, a sharper chin... But I can see him in you. And you act remarkably like him."
"How do you even know my dad?" Geraldine pursed her lips to the right, she waited a moment.
"That’s a long story I don't like to talk about."
"But you're talking about it."
"True." She walked to the railing and looked down, she could see her skirt, filled stylish patches wave in time with the shifting grass below her. In the darkness it moved like a sea, the statue of Poseidon, or maybe Neptune, standing guard over it. That statue should have been by the swimming pool.
"There's a lot of thing in the past you run from, things that happen that no one can take back or forget about, but no one wants to revisit. Your dad is one of those things. We ran together for a while, when he was a young teenage punk fresh out of fighting at Phobos. That's where we met Chess Mistress Hex, your boss." Aladdin was taken aback, he couldn't see her face as well as he'd like the dark, but he wondered if she was leading him on.
"You think I work for chess mistress Hex?" Dodge.
"I know who the Gambler is kid, I was there when your dad shot her foot off."
"Wait what-- he shot her foot off? WHAT?" Geraldine grinned, "He really doesn't tell you everything does he? Man's got some skeletons in his closet, that’s for sure, but I assumed he'd have at least told you about that."
"Well he didn't." Geraldine was loosening up, maybe it was that she'd finished the Champagne and it hadn't been her first glass, maybe it was that she was just enjoying rubbing this in Aladdin's face, maybe she was just glad to tell someone, who knows.
"Kid, your dad and I were dating for over a year. We ran together, Poison Pilling around the solar system like real punks. Causing mayhem, showing other people how awesome we were, knocking boots, taking out other Poison Pills, shooting Hexie's foot off. And he never mentioned all that once?" Aladdin couldn't imagine why his dad would have ever mentioned 'knocking boots' with anyone other than his mom. The idea made Aladdin very uncomfortable, something normally Aladdin would be good at hiding, something that right now was posted across his face like a piece of Gongen Propaganda.
"No. I can't see why he would have mentioned that. Have you told any of your kids that?" She stared at him, "Touché. And you better not say a word to any of them. I've fought my whole life to have a family, and I won't have any little troublemakers stirring the pot."
"I don't want to trouble make or stir pots, I just want to protect you guys from Radical Doitzel. I just want to protect my people from radical Doitzel."
"Your family is on the Honor of the Outcast, the safest place to be in the entire system. You don't have to worry about them." Neptune's face hadn't changed at all, neither had Poseidon’s.
"Not everyone I care about is on the outcast." There were only a few options for what that could mean, but Geraldine knew boys, and she knew the look on Aladdin's face when he said it, "You've got yourself a crush don't you? Somebody off in the middle of the fighting?"
"Yeah, a Maverick girl named Nightingale." That was the last thing Geraldine had wanted to hear. There had been all sorts of things he could have said, the internet had told her he might be dating Lalita Mashima, daughter of the president of Gongen. The internet had told her he was the rich son of a rich man who was one of the most important researchers and coders of the last century. The internet hadn't told her that history was cyclical.
"JackBox?" Kalingkata said, nuzzling her neck, and kissing down it till she woke up, her electronic eye blinking on, her real one sliding open, she smiled into his face, "morning Sang Ki." He kissed her for real, morning breath be damned, "Morning. Let’s get some breakfast, I want to hack the Tenzu mainframe this afternoon."
"I want to steal something."
"Tenzu has no wireless, its locked in, so we'll have to sneak in. Plenty to steal then." Her face lit up, "ain't nobody can stop us when we put our minds to it!" She pulled him close, wrapped her leg around his waist, and started to kiss him again.
"Don’t' you want breakfast?"
"Breakfast can wait, Kalingkata. We're busy."
"...Geraldine?" Aladdin was looking at her, "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, sorry, just... Never mind. Nothing." All the Jhe boys love Maverick girls at least once in their life maybe. Geraldine just hoped that it worked out better for Aladdin then it did for his dad. She could still see the look on his face when she was led away from him for the last time to be exiled from the planet Gongen permanently.
"Aladdin, you love that girl?"
"Well, love is a strong word, and I don't think I should say it, and you know, its awkward because she has the whole revolution and..." Geraldine's face said, "oh come on."
"Yeah, I love her. A lot."
"Then don't you let go of her, if you've got something good, make sure you don't lose it. When this war is over you better bring by a shit-ton of babies and say hello. I love babies."
The fourteen children had tipped him off that she loved babies. "I'm really young to start having kids."
"I was younger then you when I started." Ah.
"I mean, I don't even know if she wants kids, that’s kind of a big question, and she's focused on her work right now." Geraldine threw the champagne glass off the balcony. It fell into the grass, lost in its shifting tide. "Kid, let me give you some advice. People die all the time, people get killed, or they leave you and never speak to you again, and you know what? There was always something that got in the way and kept them from saying what they want to."
"Yeah, and those things make this not a good time to tell her."
"They might, and maybe it is a terrible time, but you'll never forgive yourself if you never take the chance to have something special with her. You only get so much time in life. Make the most of it." Geraldine turned and walked out without another word. There below, Poseidon's gaze was situated on a single wine glass thrown into the wind, one shining thing in the shadows. Neptune did not approve. Aladdin watched the God think in marble, and thought of Nightingale, sailing the wine-black sea of space.
* * * *
Nightingale, or Alice MacLeod as she'd been born, stared out the viewport at the endless black of space. There was nothing so empty as space, and nothing so free. And there was nothing stopping the violence that would probably await them at their destination. The ship was silent, as so was she, a rarity on both counts really.
"INCOMMING COMM." She looked at the comm panel, and didn't recognize the number.
"Sefkrie, First Mate Nightingale MacLeod here."
"Nightingale, hi." She hadn't been expecting that.
"Aladdin? How are you coming me? I thought you were in deep cover?"
"I am, but I'm using one of the Gambler's personal encrypted channels for this. And I doubt this conversation would be terribly interesting to spies. I don't have that long anyways. I just wanted to tell you something." Well, information is important, and it was important enough he'd risked the Gambler chopping his head off to call her. Whatever he had to see, it had to be huge. She leaned in to the comm, "What is it? I'm all ears."
There was a moment as a Aladdin put the words together.
"I miss you Nightingale. I miss you a lot." She smiled.
"I miss you to Aladdin. I miss you a lot."
They were both grinning, and they talked till their voices turned to static, and the silence returned, but without its bite, because far away from each other, two minds both thought, "they miss me.", and the emptiness of space was lit up with a million stars.
Chapter 9: An Aegenor Amongst Him
Aegenor watched Eowyn chase her little brother Valentinez around the room. She was saying pretty stereotypical, "I'm going to get you!" style stuff, and her brother was screaming at the top of his lungs. Aegenor sat in the wingchair and watched them circle. Gilgamesh and Beowulf were playing some sort of board game with Murakami and Kriemheld. Brunhild was swimming. Ulysses was lifting weights, which was at least pretty pleasant to watch, and little Boudicca kept asking to have a turn, at which point she would try to lift one of his weights and strain at the impossibility of it, as Aegenor suspected the weight was heavier than her. Zoroaster was out with Dianne, and Aegenor had heard 80 million times about how he was going to be the first one to move out of the house. Hypatia was talking to Leonidas about something Aegenor couldn't care less about. Cleopatra was silently doing her nails. Aegenor had no idea where Anya was. Michelangelo was reading a book. Geraldine was just watching the rest of the family, which seemed to be more than enough entertainment for her. Aladdin was also missing from Aegenor's awareness, which was probably not great from a "I need to protect him" standpoint, but she wasn't feeling too up about that right now anyways.
"You alright Aegenor?" Michelangelo had spoken. His voice was almost unfairly reassuring, unerringly masculine, and unequivocally charming. If he read the phone book, people wouldn't just be entertained, they would try to sign him for a book deal.
"I'm fine," she said, not doing a particularly competent job of hiding the boredom in her voice.
"I take it you aren't used to big families?" He was quick to the cut wasn't he? She wanted him to start sucking at something posthaste so she could feel better about herself.
"Yeah, never really had one around."
"Neither did Geraldine or I growing up, we were on the streets. Kids changed that of course."
"You've certainly got a lot of them."
"Geraldine's dream. She has her reasons for wanting so many children.”
"Well I'll never have any." Michelangelo looked annoying pleasant and nonplussed at her second hand insult. "Why is that?", he seemed to ask out of genuine curiosity.
"Because people just leave, and I wouldn’t want to leave kids alone fending for themselves."
"You wouldn't have to leave you know, you could buck the trend you expect."
"Or I could prove it and force a very small human to live out its days like I did, in frakking squalor."
"Language, there are kids here."
"You seem convinced you're fated to be what you've been."
"Of course, nothing really changes." Michelangelo looked at her... Piteously. And Aegenor was enraged that she actually felt ashamed, "I've got to go... Get some a... Aladdin I have to find Aladdin." Eowyn threw something that lightly bounced off her shoulder.
"Yeah. Definitely out of here." Michelangelo smiled, "I hope you find what you're looking for."
She didn't know what he was talking about, she wasn't looking for anything.
* * * *
Aladdin and Anya were outside, pointing at stars together and giggling. It was grotesque. If she didn't know better, she'd think they had a thing for each other. But she knew better, oh hell did she know better. She'd had the whole trip over to this station to learn that.
"You know, I think when this is all over, I might just tell my dad I'm not working for him anymore and help Nightingale liberate Earth. I mean, I'm sure I could help, they can always use another poison pill can't they?"
Aegenor wasn't good at reading, she was in fact terrible at it, but she had been trying to read a book, in the hopes that Aladdin might notice she was reading and shut up. The book was a comic book, but it didn't really make any sense. "I'm sure they can use one. They can always use one."
"I mean, she'd appreciate that right?"
"How should I know?"
"I was thinking of getting her a present, but anything I would get her would be gaudy right? I mean, it would be like me going, 'hey I'm rich have some shit it didn't really cost me anything to buy.' right?"
"I've never been rich. I wouldn't know." This comic book's plot really made so sense. It was from Gongen so that might have had something to do with it."
"But like, imagine if I had a crush on you."
"I'd kill you."
"Whatever, imagine a rich guy you actually liked had a crush on you, and he gave you something really nice, that you could never afford, but that you were pretty sure it wasn't hard for him to get. Or even something it was hard for him to get, so exotic you had no idea what it was. How would you feel?"
"I'd feel like he was either being condescending, or was so far outside of my worldview and experience I'd never be compatible with him." She looked over at Aladdin, he was staring up at the ceiling, "Yeah, I thought that’s what you might think. Also, I know you aren't understanding that book, it’s a manga, you read it from the other side." Aegenor flipped the book over. He was right. It didn't last her through the whole trip, and when she was done, it was right back to bird girl.
Not to mention Anya was ten years older than Aladdin, but that never stopped a lot of people.
So there were Anya and Aladdin, who she couldn't even snidely make lovebird jokes at because Aegenor had no poker face, and it was then that it struck Aegenor, very unsubtly, that she was totally alone.
She couldn't think of a person she considered a friend.
She had no family.
She had no one she trusted.
No one she looked up to.
No one who loved her.
No one she loved.
It was at that moment that despite her best instincts, her self control, her skill at self delusion, and her rigorous stoicism, that Aegenor dropped to her knees and began to weep.
* * * *
"So Anya, what did you see up in the sky that night?"
"Stars? I still don't quite understand who you are." I put the cup of coffee down, "I just like stars."
"Then why are you asking about those stars, the ones Aladdin and I saw, rather than like, any other stars? I could tell you about Orion, what I think of when I see each of those stars up at night."
"You could, I mean, I'd listen to that."
"Carl, this isn't really a date is it? You didn't really like my knife nails, and don't think I have a stunning smile. This is about the fact that I hung out with Jhe Aladdin and he stopped some freaks from hurting my family isn't it."
I didn't really know what to say. "My brother will beat you up."
"Take your pick, really. Oh and guess what?'
"My sisters will to. Oh, and so will I"
"Oh, fun." Anya stared me down across the table. "I should have known that you weren't on the level. Stay away from me and my family."
"I need this information!" Aw, frak. that was the last thing I needed to say.
"You need what?"
"No, that’s not what I meant." She was angry, she was glowering. She was a Hypercube scorned. And I needed to get this information.
"Frak you, and stay away from me and my family." She got up, whipped her nails out, and I leaned back. And watched her blonde hair shimmer as she walked out and gave me the evil eye s she slammed the door to the restaurant, and left me with the check. So, there is a gap in the story here, because I didn't get to interview Anya anymore, and unfortunately all insights into her own thoughts cut off here. This was highly unfortunate, especially since it meant I was off limits to the rest of her family as well from this point on. That didn't mean I didn't break into their house and steal all their security logs as well as plant bugs all over it which were also later retrieved. I mean, of course I did that, I'm working for Chess Mistress Hex and I am all about not getting eviscerated. But for a bit of time here I only have one source.
The only person willing to talk.
The only other person working for the Cartel I wasn't spying on.
* * * *
"So, this is some sort of performance report or something?"
"Sure, you can think of it that way. Could you state your name for the record?"
"Aegenor Philips." She ate her pie like a pig that didn't have to dress up for its friends and could just really let loose. I had ordered the pie, and she had grabbed it from my place setting.
"Great, so, Aegenor, tell me about Jhe Aladdin."
"Can't stand the guy."
"Oh really? Would you care to tell me more?"
Unlike the last date I went on, this time I talked for hours. I think we really made a connection. Okay, no, but she did tell me a lot more then I was expecting, and she told me what was going to happen next, "Well, I should probably get back, tomorrow me, Aladdin, Anya, and Ulysses are going to Hijack a ship."
That wasn't what I was expecting. At least this report was keeping me on my toes.
As an aside, I should note I later got insight into some of this, but well, spoilers.
Chapter 10: All Aboard the Moopet of Space
Jhe Aladdin had been plotting. He'd been piecing things together, something I hadn't been able to tell from security footage and interviews with other people. There was something in his brain that, seeing the Hypercube family so threatened, children under the threat of murder, that he had taken down some sort of wall in his head. You can see it from looking at him. His eyes were colder, more calculated. He would stop and look at things as though he was taking them apart and figuring out how they could be used in some plot of his. He reminded me of old holovids of Jade Darkshadow a bit, the difference being that Aladdin was fighting for people he cared about rather than self-interest, but there was one thing that wasn't different: he became ruthless. He convinced Michelangelo and Geraldine to let him take Anya and Ulysses off base for a bit, after signing some forms for them. He purchased large amounts of copper wire and electrical tape. He must have realized I'd bugged the house, and the statues, because he started going on walks with Anya and Ulysses through the tall grass. At the end of the week, he had a shuttle off world that he had borrowed from the Hypercubes, as well as a full set of outfits for the four of them to dress up in. It wasn't long before they had silently suited up, boarded the ship, and taken off for places unknown. I'm sad to say I didn't learn about the rest of this story until it was over with, except for one last detail.
Backgammon Jenny came to visit.
She didn't do it like a normal human, she rolled bladed up to the front gates with a katana on her back, goggles on her eyes, and oversized headphones on her ears, along with her usual plaid skirt and black military jacket over a black turtle neck. She had a patch on one shoulder that said "Carnival Reich." The other shoulder said, "Be a punk, think like a Revolutionary." She was chewing gum.
"Hey, (she popped the gum), is Aladdin still here?" Cleopatra shook her head no.
"'aight." She said, and turned and started to roller blade off, before performing a kick turn and coming right back, "Any idea where he is?"
She left. Backgammon Jenny rollerblading down to the ice-cream parlor and ordered herself a cone. She watched the sunset and ate it. Then she high tailed it back to her gigantic battle cruiser that could wipe out millions of people and went about her merry way.
That was the last of this I got in the normal way.
The rest, well, you'll see.
(It should also be noted that the Nest was actually completely unguarded for about a week during all of this. It turns out "there is usually an invisible battleship around" works as a defense even when there isn’t an invisible battleship around. Unless Kalingkata has a second invisible battleship, which well, I guess how would we know? We only know about the first one because he shows the dam thing off so much.)
You may be wondering where I got the upcoming details. All will be explained. Hexie did ask for a good story.
* * * *
"Is everyone ready?" Anya, Ulysses, and Aegenor all nodded, "okay then, let’s get ready. We'll only get one shot at this."
"How exactly did you come up with this plan Aladdin? It doesn't sound like... You could have known all of this." Aladdin grinned at Aegenor, "I just knew where to look."
The shuttle drifted closer to the strange shimmer, which at this close range was the clear sign of a cloaked vessel. Anya was staring out the viewport at space, it wasn't the first time she'd been off world of course, but it was the first time in a while. Ulysses was checking weapons over and over again. "What’s that you've got man?" Ulysses pointed at something on Aladdin's hip.
"Oh, it’s a Taser."
"I've seen Tasers before, they don't look that fancy." Aegenor added, snidely.
"It’s a fancy taster. They sell them to rich kids instead of collectable buttons nowadays. They're all the rage." Aegenor rolled her eyes as hard as she could.
"We're reaching the vessel." Anya muttered. Aladdin stared at it intently.
"Aladdin, I'm noticing another ship that’s-"
"Don't worry about that Anya."
"We're being hailed," Ulysses cut in. Aladdin pressed the button.
"Hypercube shipping vessel Gawain, you are being appropriated by the great assimilation. Be joyful at your assimilation, or be exterminated."
"Understood, Great Assimilation vessel. We are happier than a Maverick with all his limbs in an American Civil war hospital."
"Good. Prepare to dock with us."
"Understood." He flicked the comm off.
"Explain your plan right now or I shoot you."
"You are not shooting him!"
"What are you going to do, shank me with your nails?"
"I could also shoot you, I have a gun Aegenor."
"Settle down everyone, its simple. The aliens we've been running into can channel electricity from their bodies right?"
"Yeah, that’s how they hack into humans and computers right?"
"Yeah, so thing is, they have to have something in their bodies that channels that electricity easily, something that could pump enough energy to do the kinds of things they do. So I spent time ordering large shipments of different conductive materials from different areas on the station, depleting the local supplies, and then checked if anyone cared. Turns out, someone was willing to pay an excess amount for copper after I lowered the amount on the market. So I bought all the rest in the area. It was a gamble, but I guess they need to eat copper and they've been on assignment so long their stores are low so they've been buying it in bulk through agents. All I had to do then was set up this shuttle shipment, and then make sure they knew we were coming."
"A battleship knows we're coming you moron. We're all going to die, they're expecting us!"
Aladdin just grinned, "oh no, they're not going to expect this."
"You just quoted Malcolm Reynolds!"
"I'm glad you caught the reference, Anya."
"Jesus and Bowie, you Jhe's and Hypercubes should just all move into a house together."
* * * *
you were a young boy from a civil age
when we took your mind and bound ya with rage
in a case closed where no one knows
a roll of the dice and you'll be
an instrument of me
-Carnival Reich "Instrumental Me."
1 year earlier
Hannibal Hank, not his real name, sat backstage waiting for the curtains to rise in half an hour. Well, not the literal curtains, this venue was too large for curtains. He was just enjoying his schnapps, wondering where the drummer was, and thinking about how he didn't want to play his band's biggest hit "Baby Backup Plan" even one more time, but of course he would be playing it all smiles tonight yet again.
"Excuse me." He turned to the voice, there was a teenage Gongen kid and a very excitable and beautiful girl of the same age. "What is it?"
"We were wondering if you could autograph these?" He held out two copies of their album, "Zigzag Zarathustra," and Hank could only sigh. "You weren't supposed to be let backstage. This is a VIP area." The boy and the girl looked at each other, "we're here because this is the VIP area."
"Yeah, and you're schmoosing."
"No, we're VIP's. This is Lalita Mashima, daughter of Natsu Mashima, president of Gongen, and also world famous model, and I'm Jhe Aladdin, son of Kalingkata."
Rich kids. He sighed, well, better just get this over with. Hank grabbed a marker and began to sign the records. "Mr. Hannibal?" He muttered a "hrmn?" as he scribbled his signatures, "I was wondering what you thought about souls." That wasn't his usual line of questioning from teenagers, which was usually about how amazing he was and how they loved him and wrote his name on their tablet computer for school. He could just be being pretentious as well though, teenagers did that.
"Souls are a complex issue kid."
"Let me be more specific, do you think souls are defined by the stars we're born under or the stories we tell through our own lives?" Lalita looked a bit oddballed by all of this.
"I'm sure he doesn't want to talk about this, Aladdin. Personally I thought Zigzag Zarathustra is the best album of the decade!" Hank waved her statement away.
"No, I'm happy to answer," better then listening to gushing anyways.
"A bit of both I think, we always have who we were born as in us, but we can change the nature of our souls if we want to, it just takes more or less work depending on who we are.
Aladdin nodded, "And what about other people's souls?"
"Those are out of our control kid. You can control another person's soul as much as you can control the stars. Sure, I'm sure you could finagle some sort of massive piece of technology to mess with a sun, but would it be really be worth the effort to see a slightly different ray of light from some other sun, when it took your whole life's devotion to make it that way, when you could have just lived under the light of a star you preferred the whole time." He handed them the signed records. Lalita was ecstatic.
"Thank you. That answered my question."
"I'm very much looking forward to the show Mr. Hannibal!" He nodded and sloshed the drink around in his tumbler. "You're welcome. I hope you enjoy it."
"What the hell kind of question was that?" The girl said. Aladdin just slipped his arm around her waist, and kissed her on the forehead, "I just wanted a professional opinion."
Hank swirled the drink in the glass, and watched the light filter through its tint. The world was always filtered through things, though light, through people, through beginnings and endings, and sometimes through absence.
"Fifteen minutes Mister Hannibal." He raised his glass to signal his acknowledgement. It was nearly ShowTime.
Back to one year later.
* * * *
The doors opened up slowly, and Aladdin, Aegenor, Anya, and Ulysses awaited the crew of the coil alien's ship patiently. They were wearing their very best coveralls emblazoned with the Cube2Hypergang logo, and watching the strange aliens on the other side appear.
Aegenor had her doubts this would work. Anya was excited. Ulysses didn't seem too plussed one way or the other. Aladdin stood confidently the way only a 17 year old boy could.
The coiled aliens half crept half slithered in on their multi ended snake bodies, and soon enough there were more than a dozen of them crawling along the floor. When it seemed like no more of them were entering into the ship, Aladdin took a deep breath.
"Where is the copper?"
Anya just grinned, "You're walking on it!" Aladdin exhaled, and hit the switch.
The dozen or so aliens soon found themselves in a large white room, with one of the crew of the ship they had just gone to take over standing in the center.
"Hello, first off, do you guys have a name for your species? We haven't been able to call you anything specific."
"We are ourselves, we have no name as you would call it." One answered. That wasn't very helpful.
"Oh well, regardless, I'm in charge of your ship now." The aliens looked at each other, he had to be kidding them right? "And you're going to tell me all about whoever is in charge on your end. This kid was not just funny, he was in fact hilarious.
"There is no way that is happening."
Jhe Darkshadow opened his eyes, "there is as of right now." The aliens, who had never had an emotion like fear in their systems before, suddenly found someone adding it to their system, like a batch of new code being swapped into a program. And when they learned of it, Aladdin showed them that they were in fact very afraid, and deserved to be. He pushed deep into their psyches, and tore at their deepest and darkest memories, and none of them knew how to deal with what he did, and none of them could do anything but submit.
The aliens fell over onto the floor, quivering slightly, Anya cheered, Ulysses nodded approvingly, and Aegenor grunted.
"Nice trap, but we haven't rigged their entire ship with copper floors."
"You’re such a pessimist." Anya added.
"What next?" Ulysses finished. Aladdin walked through the open door into the battleship, and started flipping some switches.
"Do you even know what you're doing?"
"I ganked some of their memories about how to operate the ship's systems."
Anya looked uncomfortable, and Ulysses squeezed her shoulder. Aladdin kept working. "And now the Cavalry arrives." There was a rumble, and the sound of something else docking with the battleship.
"What exactly is that?" Ulysses said it like an order.
"The re-enforcements I asked the Gambler to send. The four of us can't fly this thing ourselves. Anya, you're in charge of Engineering, Ulysses, coms, Aegenor, security."
"And you are?" Aegenor asked, already knowing the answer. Aladdin showed off his pearly whites, "Why Aegenor, I'm your trusted captain." There was a rumble.
"Was that another shuttle?" Anya pondered.
"No, that was Maximus, you'll meet him. I doubt their security detail will be doing too well."
"So what, we just wait around while our Cartel thugs clean the place up?" Aegenor said, grimly.
"Of course not, we've got our part to do. Not that this should be that difficult."
As the four of them found, as Anya sliced, Ulysses pounded, Aegenor shot, and Aladdin hacked their way through the ship, it really wasn't. Turns out aliens that have to grab your spine to mind control you are pretty ineffectual at mind control when you kill them.
* * * *
Radical Doitzel was bored. Like, really bored. Which was saying something because he had a whole war to keep him entertained, and really that should have been enough. But he had done enough wars before, and this new one wasn't that different really, even worse it was where he had grown up, which meant that he couldn't even have the distraction of looking at things he hadn't seen before. Instead it was just his ships blowing up things he'd already seen before, the same old spiel, and no one even appreciated that he was doing it to save the universe. He sighed, and walked across his bridge, his cape giving just the perfect amount of billow to meet the speed of his step. He really should give his tailor a bonus.
"Lord Doitzel!" One of his men said, "There is a ship approaching, one of ours, well, one of the Councils." Doitzel raised a very well groomed eye-brow. "Indeed? Well, shoot at it.."
"It seems to be asking to dock with Councilor Memnor's ship."
"Why would councilor Memnor's ship be over here?"
"Because we were discussing things with it sir?" He would have rather just blown up the Councilor's ship, but that would look bad, and he was smarter than to jeopardize his oodles of goodwill back home.
"Well we don't just let strange ships through our lines."
"It’s one of ours."
"That isn't scheduled to be over here. Shoot at it."
"They've sent us a message sir: they identify themselves as the Moopet of Space. They say they are here to test if councilor Memnor has enough ducks on standby to test for witches."
Radical Doitzel stared at the ensign for more than a moment, it was more like a full minute, before bursting out laughing. "The Moopet of Space? Really? Okay, that can only be one person."
"Someone I made soup for once. Let him pass."
The ensign looked at some other officer Doitzel hadn't even noticed had been standing nearby. Did promotions just spring out of the ground around here?
"Sir, the ship has clearly been hijacked."
"Don't you think I know that?" Doitzel smiled, this day wasn't so boring after all, "I think however in this case our hijacker friends are working at cross purposes with us. Let them pass, and send them a message." The ensign put his serious face on, "Yessir, what is the message?" Doitzel looked him straight in the eyes, and said with the utmost conviction,
* * * *
"That should not have worked." Ulysses said, "that truly and completely should not have worked. Ever." Aladdin shrugged, "Know your enemy." Maximus was nearby playfully tossing a grenade up and down, wearing his beige trench coat and his bandoliers of explosives with the same level of grace as his finely trimmed beard.
"We ready to board yet?" The Maverick man asked, bored.
"You'll get to blow things up, I promise." Aegenor answered.
The Moopet of Space, as Aladdin had christened it, slid in next to Memnor's ship, and the two ships docked with s strange pseudo-organic coupling system that one couldn't help but think was a little bit dirty looking. The team was already, weapons brandished, eyes ahead. Anya and Ulysses thought of their brothers and sisters they had left behind, the one's Memnor had tried to kill. Aladdin thought of Nightingale, and how proud she'd be of him leading this kind of assault to take out one of Doitzel's Councilors. Aegenor thought of how little she cared about this anymore. Maximus thought of the maximum blast radius of a P-48b cluster bomb. The seal was complete. Aladdin waited anxiously for the doors to open. They didn't.
"Oh frak." Aladdin's eyes got wide, "I made a mistake. I made a huge mistake."
Anya wanted to ask him what the mistake was, but as she started stumbling, she realized it herself: the design of these ships linked both organic an inorganic systems when they docked. The air was linked. Their air was being pumped with knockout gas. They had planned to wear masks onto the other ship, but it was too late, and the last thing Anya saw before she passed out was Aegenor limply reaching for Aladdin, as though to crush his throat.
* * * *
When Aegenor awoke, she was in a nice bed, with a cup of tea next to it. She sat up, and ignoring the tea, stumbled out of bed, still woozy. The room was posh, as her bare feet walked through the fur carpet, the door opened, revealing one of those coil alien things. She tensed up.
"Calm yourself. I am Memnor, member of the Council of the Great Assimilation." She tried to steady herself to look formidable. "You've been causing me a lot of trouble, mister Councilor." The thing seemed to give an impression of a bow or a nod.
"As have you. But you are notable, more notable then your fellows in one regard."
"And what’s that?"
"You aren't content with being who you are. You want to crush others and climb up their bodies on the way to the top." It seemed to be trying to mimic human mannerisms, and the effect was disconcerting. It didn't quite understand them.
"That’s a harsh way of putting it."
"But it’s true. Would you allow me to show you something?" Aegenor shrugged, "Sure, why the hell not?"
"It’s not what you'd expect, I want to show you a memory."
"You mean jack into my mind."
"I do mean that." Aegenor didn't take as long as she should have to debate it.
"Sure, why the hell not?" She repeated.
It latched onto her spine, and she was galaxies away. There were planets beyond her counting filled with life, all part of one collective whole. They were united, strong, making leaps and bounds of progress unimaginable here. It was glorious. And at the head of it all was Radical Doitzel, and the Council, and on that council Memnor, each one of them a jewel in the crown that topped the body of an empire beyond the wildest dreams she'd ever had.
"Isn't it wonderful?" Memnor thought.
She could only agree.
* * * *
She was dressed now, having eaten, and was being led along to see her fellows through the hospital clean hallways other of Memnor's kinds slithered between, cubicles each holding someone she had seen on the ship. There were those dumb Hypercubes, and the bomb man. She enjoyed seeing them knocked out, drugged up, and laid out on tables, thing digging into their spines. "What are they doing to them?"
"Adding their memories to my database. I collect their memories, their wisdom, their life stories. I add them to my own. I have lived more lifetimes then even Radical Doitzel through others, I am a library of life, the re-incarnation of thousands of lives. And soon I will be a God." Aegenor believed the thing that it could do that, but it couldn't see how. It seemed to figure that out.
"Radical Doitzel has found the secret to immortality. I seek to emulate his success, and then surpass it. I think I have found the key in a pair of humans named Nest Jhe Sang Ki and Cartel Jade Darkshadow."
Aegenor narrowed her eyes, "Jhe? That’s Aladdin's dad then."
"You're correct." Memnor opened a door, and saw Aladdin, strung up, nearly naked, tubes dug into his body all over, and his spine lined with copper wires.
"And here is the son you speak of, and I have a way to get what I need out of him."
She looked at his torso, he'd clearly been tortured some, cut, beaten... "Torture him more?"
"No, even worse, I'm going to tell him a story.
Chapter 11: Mordred's Lullaby
Memnor ran the talon like end of its appendage along Aladdin Cartel's face. It was so odd, skin; Doitzel and his soldiers had it, rather than segmented exo-skeletons, and Memnor had never really gotten used to it, but here was one right under Memnor's tendrils. The skin felt odd, it had too much give. Memnor pressed on it, and watched the skin rise back up, with some redness where the tendril had pushed down on it; fascinating! The other one, Aegenor, kept moving her eyes back and forth in weird ways, and had her head (that was the name of the body segment?) leaning down. Memnor recalled these as signs of discomfort in homosapiens. "Are you alright, Aegenor Cartel?"
"Why do you always have to fucking say 'Cartel'?"
"That's your... House, Aegenor Cartel."
"Is that translation incompatible?"
"I fucking think so."
"I comprehend. I will research your linguistics further." Memnor broke into her mind,
*So till then, this will have to do*
*Get out of my head!* Memnor was filled with an emotional that was sort of like joy.
*No. Now we are going to go into Aladdin Cartel's mind. We are going to have some fun with him, maybe we'll break him. Can you think of any good ways?* She looked at him with an expression that was that of pain, or maybe just intense discomfort? Both? So much to learn!
*Not really. He really hates that Jade Darkshadow lady*
*Indeed he does... And that is most relevant to my motives* Its tendrils so coiled, shivered in something that was a mix between anticipation and a berserk fury.
*Let me comb your mind, I need to find a story he can relate to....*
*No.* Memnor stabbed into her psyche. She screamed, it was an interesting reaction, as it dug through her memories, it found a story most appropriate.
*Its story time Aegenor Cartel....*
No, that wasn't right. Who was Aladdin? Mordred looked down at his hands, he'd dreamed he was... Well he didn't look English that was for sure. But that was just a dream, it was an odd one too; there was a bird, that was apparently an important bird... The dreams were fading fast, and Mordred couldn't hold onto them for longer than a few moments as the light of the dawn crept into his room. Then it hit him: it was dawn.
Mordred didn't waste any time getting out of his bed, and putting his clothes on. Mother was not the kind of person one wanted to keep waiting. He moved as fast as he could while being silent, and fetched the water, fetched fresh wood, stoked the stove, fetched fresh eggs and milk from the barn, and began to make Mother's breakfast. He could feel her move down the steps, not hear her so much, but she had a certain aura. He didn't even need to look to know she was wearing her Jade-green dress, her blonde hair running down her shoulders.
"Mordred, you're up early." He was always up early, yet she always said that. Mordred sliced her bread, and flipped the fried eggs onto the slices, just as she liked it, and placed the plate and the milk at her place setting. She began eating, and a few bites in looked at him standing there, hands clasped in front, lips pursed.
"Oh, Mordred Dear get yourself something to eat, you don't have to wait like that." He had to wait like that. He'd seen what happened when he didn't. Mordred hastily scraped himself together some food, and ate it quickly, pacing himself carefully. He needed to finish at just about the same time as mother, it was very important. Mordred knew very well how life needed to be lived, and that was with the obedience of the stars to their constellations.
Every day was like every other, he performed the morning routine, and then his mother and he would stroll into the woods, and she would begin his training. Oaf was there, which was not his real name, but was what mother wanted Mordred to call Oaf. "Swing at him again, Mordred." Mordred's panting was like dragon breath, it rolled like steam through the cold dark air of the dawning sun. He hefted the sword, which was intentionally heavier than it should be, and charged at Oaf, his calves were sore, his arms were aching, and Oaf stood there in his painted black armor, his blunt sword hanging casually in his hand, his eyes staring blandly out of the helmet. He swung, and Oaf casually deflected the blow, almost halfheartedly, but Mordred kept swinging, angling and slicing and jabbing, trying to get a blow in edgewise, and Oaf simple parried and dodged and retaliated. Every blow Oaf gave Mordred, he had to get up, until his body flat out refused to get up again.
"Another day of disappointment Mordred. I expected better today. Don't you want to make your mommy proud?" Mordred tried to open his mouth to respond, but no words came out, just a moaning noise. His mother and Oaf walked off, their footsteps fading into the woods, and Mordred opened his bruised eyes to the sky. The bruises were thick, he was rarely given time enough to heal the wounds he sustained, which meant he always ached, always hurt, and never forgot the extent of his failure.
Someday he'd meet his scum of a father, and show him what he thought about him. Every beating he received was due to Arthur Pendragon. Every hateful day was his father's fault. And Mordred could not wait to spit in his face and take his kingdom from him. Mother Empress LeFey would be so pleased. He stared up at the trees, their leaves swayed gently in the sunlight, which was promptly cut off by a feminine mess of red hair and freckles that took over his view.
"Mister are you alright?"
"Mrerrrngeneh." Mordred said.
"You look terrible! We need to get you out of here. I'll take you to my house, we'll clean you up."
"Don't worry you are going to be okay." He tried to protest, but he wasn't actually in any condition to really protest anything about this whole situation, and the girl picked him up, and started to carry him, slowly, though the woods. Mordred tried to struggle, or speak, but all it did was make him pass out.
* * * *
When Mordred awoke, he was staring at a thatched roofs interior, and felt very... Balmy, in the sense that there was balm all over his body. He sat up, and heard his bones creak, and a few things pop (hopefully) in place. He examined his surroundings, they were... Meager. Nothing like his home. Bone carved spoons in wooden bowls filled with the remains of gruel, sunlight raining down from holes in the roof into buckets. Mordred painfully slid his feet off the hay mattress and gritted his teeth as he pushed his body to stand up, he put his foot out in front of him reaching for a step, and fell over, his head making a nasty smacking noise against the dirt floor. He rolled over, again, and started attempting to crawl. He heard the door swing open, and looked up to see the redhead from before looking down at him, carrying what looked like food.
"Well you're never going to heal if you throw yourself on the floor repeatedly."
"Only the once."
She set the food down, and gently helped him into a sitting position.
"You're wounds are serious, you can't..." She examined him, and looked baffled, "your wounds can't have healed that quickly. That’s just impossible."
"I'm not better."
"A normal person would be in bed for weeks." He tried to put on a grin.
"Glad to be abnormal." She ignored him, and started trying to shove some porridge in his mouth.
"I don't want to eat it." He tried to bat the spoon away with all the co-ordination of a blind puppy. She shoved it in his mouth, and kept shoving more in, so he started chewing.
"You're lucky to be alive you know, and that I know about stitching people up as well as I do." Mordred looked her over, she didn't have the mannerisms of a peasant, but she dressed like one. "Who are you anyways?"
"Thought you'd never ask. Alice McLeod." Alice... That name rung a bell.
"My father Donovan used to be a Knight for Lord Hicks, but when the witch Morgan LeFey came through and exiled hicks, my father decided to stay and lead the rebels against her. So we hide here in the woods." Mordred just stared. She just kept talking.
"Someday King Arthur and his knights will hear of our plight and they will come, and we'll fight with them and free ourselves from their heinous grasp. We'll have freedom, and Morgan LeFey and her bastard Mordred will have their heads on pikes!"
Mordred nodded, "oh, good! That’s... Very good. Okay. Yes." She raised an eye brow, "That was not a very enthusiastic or convincing whatever that was supposed to be." Mordred thought on his feet.
"My family works at the castle. As servants." He was a servant really, even though Morgan had so many of her own. "I don't want to get caught in the crossfire." Alice nodded, "you were so close to the castle I figured you had to have some sort of ties to it. Rest assured, when the people are free, that will include your family. We know very well that Morgan keeps most of her servants there through coercion. We're leading a revolution for the people, not against them."
Mordred nodded, not entirely sure if that made sense, but he was willing to roll with it. "We're planning our revolt soon, so when it happens, get your family and friends to somewhere safe." He nodded. She spoke more of Revolution, and when he dreamed, he dreamed of her, with a red flag, charging on horseback to cut his head off, and she was glorious.
"I don't think he's awake."
"He's in the second level of dreaming, dreaming within dreaming. It’s not entirely real to him, and we might bleed through," said the demon, clicking and slithering around his body.
"I'm not sure this is right."
"You crossed this line Aegenor, you can't jump back over it."
He awoke again to find himself alone in the forest, where he had been picked up, his wounds bandaged, and a small kerchief of bread and cheese next to him, along with a piece of parchment.
We couldn't afford to keep you longer, being from the castle you would be a danger to both of us in our village. I wish you all the best, and await the day of freedom. -Alice"
Mordred wanted to rip it up, but he hid it in his tunic instead. When he walked into the castle, Morgan ran up to him in a fury and flurry.
"Where have you been? I've been worried sick! No one was there to make me breakfast even."
Mordred just kept walking to his room. "Mordred!" she yelled, "MORDRED!"
* * * *
Mordred panted as Oaf swung at him again, nimbly stepping to the side and letting the man's excessively large sword cut into the dirt next to him. Mordred put his foot on Oaf's sword, before he could raise it up, and put the sword to Oaf's throat.
"Very good Mordred. Very good." He looked over at his mother, that was the first time she had said that to him during these sessions, and he was so distracted, Oaf punched him in the face.
Every day, he got better. Every day he fought harder. And his bruises turned to callouses, and his callouses turned to armor, and Jade smiled.
Aladdin staggered backwards, Jade? Who was Jade? Mordred shook his head. He saw visions of a strange life, and as Oaf charged towards him again, he steadied his hands on his sword. This time he wouldn't miss.
He didn't. Morgan giggled, "you're ready, Mordred."
* * * *
Alice sat in the tree, her legs dangling down, watching the chipmunk below her sniffing for food. The boy had left her a note, the one she'd rescued before, on her bedside table. She wondered why he hadn't talked then, but when he approached the tree through the brush, she waved excitedly. He was after all, kind of cute.
"Alice? That you?"
"It’s me! It’s good to see you. You look better."
"I am better." He smiled at her, then averted her eyes as she dropped down from the trees to walk next to him. "I'm... Glad you came back. I wanted to see you again but I didn't think you've be able to get free to see me."
"Alice, there are some things I need to talk to you about."
"Like your name, you never mentioned that." He looked at her, like he was about to break her, a look of sadness.
"You need to listen to me, Morgana is going to take on Arthur soon. She's going to start by slaughtering you and your rebels in the woods, as practice."
"How do you know this?"
"The attack is going to come in three days. She's gathering her forces that are waiting in the north. They'll be down, here, rest, and then crush you."
"That’s not much time."
"It’s enough time for you to get out of here, get your family out of here."
"Why should I believe you?"
"Alice, I don't want you to die, you need to get out of here."
"And you're betraying everyone in the Castle why?"
"Because I hate everyone in the castle."
"Even your mother?"
"Especially my mother."
"You'll be killed if they learn it’s you."
"I can live with that."
"Give me one reason to believe you. Why I should trust what you're telling me and move all of my family and allies out of here." She looked him right in the eyes, and he put his hand on her shoulder.
"My name is Mordred." She was silent, and looked at him again for the first time, his bruises, his face so similar to the dark Queen that had walked amongst them, his clothes too nice to be that of servants. All the things she should have seen when she first saw him beaten in the woods but didn't because he was beaten and alone. And here was Mordred, whom she was sworn to kill, whom she had hated from the moment she had learned to hate, telling her to run. Looking at her with eyes like that. Alice did the only thing she could do then. She ran.
* * * *
"I don't get what you're doing Memnor. I don't see how this does anything."
"What are stories to beings Aegenor?"
"They're stories. They're entertaining and frak."
"No, they're who we are. They define us. They replicate throughout the ages, and they drive our cultures forward to new ideas, and remind us of old ones. Aladdin holds a bond with a being he shouldn't, a being who is dead, who should only have a bond with his father. Why is that Aegenor?"
Aladdin was breathing slowly hooked up to the dreaming machine, the wires connecting his spine to Memnor's tendrils quivering slightly. He was like some sort of cyberpunk crucifix, his arms splayed out, pumped with drugs and sedatives.
"Because Aladdin is more like his father then his siblings. He's close enough there is some sort tie that Jade can latch onto."
"Precisely. And this story is his. Whatever he sees in it, he's willing to follow this story to its end."
"And what does that mean? It’s just a story."
"It means I can dig into his mind through the story without him noticing, as he falls into the story, I can seep through the layers he doesn't want me to go through, and dig though his secrets. And I've learned a lot already. With every page of the story he turns, he gives me more. He made Jade into Morgan."
"I thought that was you." Aegenor wasn't exactly sure what sort of expressions a coil plate alien made, or even could made, but she didn't really like the look of how it quivered.
"I just set the story. He casts the roles. And I've been able to cut through his defenses and pull out his memories of Jade Darkshadow, how she haunted him. And I've learned quite a bit about how she is still tied to this universe. Learned things I can use. Things that will change everything." Its tendrils swirled through the air. If she could guess, maybe it was excited.
"So you're done? You got what you needed?"
"What you need you never quite know till the story is done."
* * * *
Morgan LeFey was proud to be at the flank of her army, proud to see Mordred and Oaf at the front of it, parading to the village of those pesky rebels, ready to crush them, slaughter them, and bring on the end of Lord Hick's pitiful insurrection. Then she would kill kind king Arthur, take his throne, take his crown, and be the Queen of the Britons she always should have been.
That was her plan, it was what she intended, it was what she had so long hoped and dreamed, and all of a sudden it all came crashing down when she saw banners in the woods, and a long line of knights and Pike men.
"Morgan!" Arthur yelled through the trees, "Your surprise has been had, and I can't say it was a very good one." Morgan screamed in anger, gnashed her teeth, tugged at her hair. and raged into the mist that was beginning to fill the forest. Mordred looked at Arthur through the mist, and began to trot his horse forward, ahead of his troop. Oaf began to follow, but he held his hand out, and no one followed. Arthur, likewise, rode out to greet him.
"Hello, dad. I'm Mordred, your son."
"You're leading an army against the free peoples of Britton, you could have been so much more." Arthur looked at him, disappointment reigning in his gaze.
"Well, this was all really my mom's idea, I'm not quite into it in all honesty." Arthur looked surprised at that response. "Seriously, I don't really see why we should be fighting at all right now. I'd rather this whole war thing just went by the wayside. But I'm sure mother dearest wouldn't approve of that."
"Mordred!" She yelled, cutting through the ranks of troops, her face the snarl of an angry panther, "What are you doing? Get back here and rally your troops."
"Actually, mother Empress, I don't think I will."
"That's an order! Listen to your mother."
"You're not my mother," he squinted at her across the mists, "and this isn't how the story goes."
"This isn't a story little one!" Aladdin just laughed, "of course it is, it couldn't be anything else. Now get back into character, I'm about to break the fourth wall."
Arthur backed his horse up a few steps, the armies looked confused, and Jhe Aladdin began to tell them a story.
The Littlest Memnor
by Jhe Aladdin
Memnor was born on a world so far away from our own, that if you looked out at night, you couldn't see a single star from our own sky. It was a sad little Memnor sitting in its hole.
"No its not!" said Memnor, "I'm a proud Memnor." But the story didn't care, because Memnor was stupid and had linked its central nervous system into Aladdin's head. Memnor had always been stupid, it had been a stupid little Memnor ever since Admiral Moloch put his big metal boots down on Memnor's planet and claimed it in the name of Doitzel and his prophet Bowie. Memnor had thought it was clever, had thought it had played its way up the chain, had thought it was going to be important, but Memnor didn't want to understand the truth; that Memnor was always destined to be insignificant. No matter what Memnor did, it could never escape the fact that it was climbing up a high tall ladder to try to take the spot of the big man at the top who could kick the ladder down at any time.
So Memnor thought it would be clever, and decided it would go get its own ladder. So Memnor asked around, and it was told Jade and Kalingkata would know how to get a ladder. So Memnor, who was too afraid to ask them what was what, decided to go behind their backs to steal their friend's memories.
It wasn't a coincidence Memnor was named Memnor, even though Memnor liked to think that was always its name, or its name was fate, it couldn't deny the fact that its name had been procured by Doitzel for it over half a bottle of Scotch and a dry pastry.
"What does it do?" Moloch asked.
"Well it messes with people's memories." Doitzel stuttered through the alcohol.
"Well, should we give it a name? We're going to put it on the Council right?"
"Memory bot!" Doitzel shouted.
"That’s stupid." Moloch retorted.
"Memnor!" Doitzel settled on.
See, that was the thing that Memnor never liked to admit, it was always a cog in other being's plans, thinking it was king of the hill, when really it had been given an anthill that was on the hill it originally wanted to climb.
Memnor looked up at the stars, and saw strange ones. It looked around and saw opportunity, and forgot about the lies it had convinced itself were true. And in the grand scheme of the universe, there were billions of stars, and only one small dark deluded Memnor, friendless even amongst its own kind, deathly afraid of being anything more than it could be, and on a never ending quest to be that.
But what Memnor really should have anticipated, and made itself aware of, was that it wasn't in control of things as much as it thou-
Memnor screamed, or Aegenor at least thought it screamed. Aladdin's eyes were open, and he was looking at her though his bloodshot focus, a sly smirk on his face. He'd known what Memnor was doing?
"You're wrong. I knew what was going on, and I know how to be immortal. I can be a God."
Aladdin just stared at Memnor. And it slithered away.
"Aegenor," Aladdin muttered weakly, "I know what he's going to suggest, and you don't want to do it."
"I can do whatever I want Jhe Aladdin." she spat.
"This isn't some one upsmanship Aegenor, what Memnor wants to do, you'll regret for the rest of your life." The blood was dry from the torture, and Aegenor's eyes were dry from her sadness. She laughed.
"It is one upsmanship, this is all about being better, about getting a foot up from where I used to be. You little selfish prick, you think you're so special; being handed everything you've ever gotten on a nice golden platter."
"Who I am doesn't change what Memnor wants to do."
"When I'm better then you Jhe Aladdin, visibly better, not just on the inside, you'll regret trying to tell off." She turned triumphantly and walked for the door, as Aladdin shook his head ever so slightly.
"No, I won't regret it at all." She ignored his last words, which was fitting being that Aegenor would never hear Aladdin speak again.
* * * *
She was on the road to success. She was a triumph. She was a queen. She was the winner. Jhe Aladdin with all he had thought he was bringing to bear on the world was in fact no one when compared to the utter wonder of Aegenor Philips. Her head was held high as she walked next to Memnor, who crept along the floor. Whatever was next, she was prepared, she had chosen her side, and the future was ready to begin.
"Aegenor, the plan is now nearing its completion. The fool of a boy is wrong, I know how to achieve immortality, and I wish for you to help me with the first step."
"Okay, what do I have to do?"
"Just stand there." Memnor said, as it coiled up her leg.
Chapter 12: The Last Mind in the Hallway
Imagine your whole life is a hallway lined with doors. Every door you choose to walk through connects to a hallway that has more doors, and connects to hallways with more doors, till you walk on and on till you die, not reaching the next door in sight, or just seeing the last path you couldn’t take.
Now imagine you reach a hallway with no doors, only the one you’ve just closed behind you, and you hear the lock click. There is nowhere to go. You have made your last choice, because from this point on, who you were is dead.
This is where the story of Aegenor Philips ends. This isn’t where she dies. This is far worse than that.
Aegenor awoke in a hallway filled with locked doors, doors that were marked with strange black dripping symbols. We’re they doors? When she stepped close to them they felt like holes, and her feet felt like stumbling, but they weren’t quite feet. We’re they? They were partially feet. They were not quite attached to legs. They were… Somewhat snakes. They were somewhat her own. They were somewhat God’s. She felt sickness, and ten dozen feelings and emotion she had never thought of feeling, things she couldn’t find words for, things she had felt before when she was…
She screamed, but it felt like an experiment. It felt like something she had felt before. She had screamed before, she had screamed when Wesley Viper stabbed her in the leg and told her to get on her knees as the blood gushed down her leg when she was seen. She had screamed when she’d gotten drunk, and shot her friend Vienna in the head on accident when she waved her gun around.
It was only then that Aegenor realized that those memories weren’t just not hers anymore, but neither were the eyes she used to see with.
“Let go Aegenor. This will be so much better then you can ever expect it. I know what I’m doing. I can make us powerful. Let go.”
Aegenor shook her head and tried to keep pushing down the hallway. “No. No I don’t want this.”
“I am better then you. I deserve your body Aegenor, and I need it. This is the grand experiment. This is immortality. This is God hood.”
She felt the memory of eating ice cream for the first time at the Cartel, how it tasted, how it felt in her mouth. She remembered the boy who had bought it for her… What was her name?
Aegenor suddenly realized this had never been about a partnership this had been about Aegenor needing to be Doitzel, and Memnor thinking Aegenor was strong enough physically and weak enough mentally to be a good host. Suddenly, Aegenor started feeling okay with this, which made her panic, because the only reason she would ever be okay with that was if she was losing herself like tears falling into a river. She tried to crawl down the hallway, but she was already in the room with no doors, and she realized far too late that Aegenor Philips wasn’t a human being anymore. She realized too late that she was in fact, a new dress.
Then she stopped realizing anything at all.
* * * *
Memnor had seen sun’s die in the memories of ancient beings, it had lived for millennia in its short decades of life, and it had thought that memory could compare favorably to experience, but Memnor had no idea before how wrong it was. Its body was on the floor, sterile and dead, crumpled up, a few of its tendril’s awkwardly hanging from Memnor’s new spine. Spine! Memnor had a spine! Oh that was interesting wasn’t it.
“Oh God, please let me out of here, please let me out.” Aegenor screamed in her head. Memnor was amazed she could still exert that much control over her body, after all she was quite the weakling when it came to her mind… But this was her body. Memnor then realized its brief mistake: her spirit and body were tied together, Memnor couldn’t kick her out, he had to make her a part of itself permanently.
“Come here.” Memnor whispered, “in a few seconds you won’t even feel bad about what I’ve done to you.” Aegenor screamed and screamed, but Memnor knew better than she did. And soon, there was neither.
* * * *
Aegememnor woke up. She was suddenly aware of herself. She wasn’t… Who she was before. Memnor and Aegenor were different people certainly, and so was she. She felt like them, both of them, and yet neither of them. Aegamemnor stood up and flexed her hand, it felt odd to flex it instead of a tendril, and yet it was also the most normal thing in the world. She didn’t have tendrils anymore, but she had seen the stars. Memnor had been rather evil, evil—that was something Memnor wouldn’t have said, but it had also had the right end goal. Being on the council was the goal, and then becoming God King Emperor of the universe. Aegamemnor thought how odd it was that Memnor had wanted to live forever through her, and how Aegenor had not wanted a part in this at all, and now both of them were gone. No one had gotten what they wanted. There had been a long hallway filled with two minds, one chasing the other, running it down like prey. But the hunt killed them both. The last mind in the hallway wasn’t either the prey or the predator, it was the child of their lust and fear: the one to open up the room with no doors and step out into her own mind. She was Aegamemnor, and oh did she lust.
Chapter 13: Roller Derby Queen
Anya Hypercube woke up to see Aegenor staring at her face, but there was something wrong with Aegenor, she didn’t quite look like her, even though she did. It was nothing physical, it was her… Demeanor. The way she carried herself, and the glint in her eyes.
“Hello Anya. It’s interesting seeing you.”
“Aegenor….” Anya tried to move, and felt the restraints keeping her down. “Aegenor, you have to help get me up, we have to get out of here and find my brother and Aladdin…” She kept looking into Aegenor’s eyes.
“I’m not Aegenor anymore, Anya. I’m… Actually that’s a good question. My mind is that of Aegenor, and of Memnor, combined. Its rather interesting, but really kind of psychotic when you think about it. But I suppose that means the psychotic is in me as well.” Anya wasn’t sure what to say to that. She wasn’t even quite sure what it meant.
“You can’t just put people’s minds in other people’s bodies!”
“I think you of all people would know that’s wrong.”
“What in Bowie’s name are you talking about?” Aegenor tilted her head to the side.
“Really? You don’t know? Memnor would have told you, but frankly you probably wouldn’t want to know. Regardless, the point is that I am very definitely the minds of Aegenor and Memnor now.”
And you know what? They both deserved to lose themselves. Here I am, and you’re going to listen to me.
She heard the last thoughts in her head. It had to just be an illusion.
Anya looked at what had once been her friend in horror. She hated having people probe her mind, and Aegenor doing it was somehow even worse, because of course, it wasn’t her.
“Let her go. Get out of her head!”
“There’s nothing to let out, I’m a new me now, I’m no one you remember. I should get a new name. Though I suppose an old one would work as well. What about something evocative?”
“Jerk face?” Anya suggested.
“Aegamemnor!” She exclaimed! “Reminds me of that old king from the Iliad. I will be a queen, so it fits. Goodbye Anya Hypercube. I’d like you to come work for me helping to create my new empire, but I see you have some reservations, so I’ll leave you to your thoughts.
Anya pulled against the restraints. Whatever happened to Aegenor, despite how abrasive she had been, she didn’t deserve whatever had happened to her now. No one deserved that. And Anya needed to get out and find Aladdin. Immediately.
Aegamemnor went back to her room, or what had been her room, it seemed homely, but the furniture didn’t fit her body, and she soon started realizing her body had other needs, like Hunger. She wanted food, and despite how good she remembered Copper tasting, she was pretty sure her new body wouldn’t take that too well. Aegamemnor walked over to the confiscated object room, and struggled for a moment figuring out how to open the door. She had no tendrils, so she had to project her thoughts at it, and it sort of worked if she shoved the controls at the same time. The door slid open, and she started looking through the bags until she found some apples and granola bars. She bit into an apple, and remembered taste. It was glorious, and she felt… Human. Aegamemnor suddenly remembered something she desperately wanted to know, something simple, and ran to go get it from Anya Hypercube. She barreled through the door, a granola bar still hanging out of her mouth, and put her hands on the copper tubes she used to put her tendrils into. That did nothing, and she felt quite silly for thinking it would do anything at all. She bit off the chunk of granola, and began chewing it as she focused her mind; this whole non-contact thing was strange, but it functioned.
“Anya? Am I in your mind?”
“Get the hell out!”
“Excellent! I need you to think back, to when you were outside with Aladdin. I want to see that memory.”
Aegamemnor shrugged, she would see it, it would just be more difficult … Then again Aladdin was already broken in, and she felt none of Memnor’s glee in breaking another just for fun. She wandered over to Aladdin, and barged into his mind, extracted the memory as he stared at her confused and horrified, screaming the word, “Jade!” and “Not again! Never again!” but Aegamemnor ignored him, and closed her eyes: she had a memory she wanted to relive.
* * * *
Anya enjoyed having extra people around the house, not that the house was ever really silent, but that eventually you get used to the seeing the same fifteen people every day. She wandered off, and found Aladdin alone on the lawn, looking up at the sprawling sky shining through the high glass dome.
“What are you doing out here? Everyone is inside.” Aladdin gestured for her to come closer, so she did so, and popped a squat next to him.
“Your house is bugged.” He tossed her what looked like, well, a listening device someone had fried.
“Oh my God.”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ve been being followed since I got this assignment. Hexie sent someone to keep track of me, and obviously they need to keep detailed reports. But that won’t last.”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Because we aren’t going to stay here. I’m… tired of playing by everyone’s rules. I’m tired of waiting around while other people dictate what I do, where I run. So I’ going to run, and I’m going to take out these people who are trying to kill your family.”
“And I’m coming with you, which means also Ulysses.” Aladdin just shook his head.
“I can’t have you guys tailing me around, I mean…” Anya put his hand on my shoulder.
“If it were your sister, would you sit back and wait?”
Aladdin put his own hand on her shoulder, “Not for a moment.”
“Then I’m coming.” Aladdin just smiled, “Anya, do you see all those stars?”
“Of course I do. There’s Orion’s belt. I always love finding that one. Wherever I am, if I can find it, I feel safe.”
“Any reason behind that?”
“When I was a kid, my dad, Geraldine, and whichever ones of us were born would sit out on the lawn and look at the stars together, all as a family. Whenever I see it, even if I’m alone, I know that the same stars are there for them. So I’m never really alone.”
“That’s why we’re going to win.”
“I don’t follow.”
“When those things that attacked here look up at the stars, they don’t see the same ones. Not just not the same constellations, not even any of the same stars. They’re too far away to see with eyes, so when they look up to see the light that shows them home, that they’re loved, it isn’t there. Every night we have our stars above our heads, and they can only look at the blackness in between for comfort.”
Anya hadn’t expected that sort of answer, she hadn’t been sure what to expect. That was when they heard Aegenor crying. She was on her knees, her arms crossed, weeping, her body pulsing with the sobs. Aladdin and Anya stepped over, they asked her if she was okay, they tried to put their arms around her, or comfort her, but she threw them off.
“I don’t need anybody, and I don’t want anybody, I just don’t want to be alone.”
She ran off into the night, and Anya and Aladdin were dumbfounded about what to say.
* * * *
Anya Hypercube strained against the straps. She had of course all sorts of gizmo's in her mechanical limbs, but apparently when the alien's had read her mind, they had searched out what all of those were in her memories and promptly disabled her limbs. So she was straining with only half her body, and the other limbs were just weighing her down. It was frustrating, not quite so frustrating as realizing how she could get out of her straps and then promptly getting rescued, which was exactly what happened. There was the sound of a few slices, and the soft thud of some Carnival Reich, and a woman in a plaid skirt, black turtleneck, black army jacket, goggles, large headphones, knee socks with kittens on them, and wearing roller blades careened through the hallway, tearing through Memnor's people with a Katana.
"You wanna see me gnash em
Slice em' Gut em' Cut em?
I'm a samurai of the 51st Baktun
Gunna arbitrate, castrate, violate, violent
With my arbitrary justice, bring the violins!"
As the violins started playing, audibly, from the headphones the lady was wearing, Anya watched the sprays and spirals of black ichor fly by her vision. Eventually the woman came to a halt in front of her chamber, spit out a piece of gum, and with her ichory fingers popped in another. "You Anya Hypercube?"
Anya suddenly realized that she could still trigger the emergency release on her arm and leg, which would have been more obvious had she not been drugged and captured.
"Yeah, I'm Anya, just give me a minute I'm almost out..." The woman made several quick cuts faster than eyesight, the restraints fell free, with not a new cut on Anya.
"Who are you?"
"Backgammon Jenny. I work for Aladdin's dad, and we're about to mount the mother of all rescue mission/assassination attempts. You ready to roll?"
Anya turned her limbs back on, and got up shakily as they booted up. "Yeah, I'm ready."
Jenny nodded, and Anya wished she could have seen her eyes behind those goggles, instead it was just her own face, marred by shining blots of ichor that dripped down the goggles.
"Then let’s go, I'm not done killing people, and we have a lot of people to rescue."
"Is Ulysses okay."
"We'll get him." She looked at Anya, more seriously then she had been looked at before in her life. "After we get Aladdin." Anya didn't argue. The two of them were a flurry of death and cuts. The coiling aliens either fought, or ran, but all of them fell to slices from Jenny's katana or Anya's bladed nails. Anya's hands cut through the bends in the aliens with fine precision, and her arm tired with the extremely fine dexterity she had to use to line up the hits, all while dodging their striking talon's and lashing tendrils. She got cut a few times, but she left her foes gushing ichor on the floor. Not like Jenny though. Jenny didn't use effort. Jenny wasn't fighting, Jenny was killing. She was a one woman execution squad on roller blades, and anything that was in her way was dead. Bits of coil flew against the wall and Ichor pumped bubbling from their wounds.
Backgammon Jenny wasn't like her boss. Her boss had given up being a badass for suits and diapers. Backgammon Jenny rollerbladed up the cylinder walls of the hallway so she could kill people while rolling on the ceiling. Jenny flipped through the air and kicked, her rollerblades getting suddenly sharp and cutting up some punk aliens that were in her way while her sword never stopped moving. Backgammon Jenny was a punk. She had a gospel of Rock n' Roll intoxication and bloodshed. Anya did her best to keep up, do pull her own weight, but the truth was Jenny was a devout girl, and she was going to church. By the time they reached Aladdin's room, the floor was slick with ichor, and Anya wasn't sure if the ship could even have much crew left on the dumb thing. Jenny slid to a halt, popped her gum, and opened the door to reveal... Nothing. There was no one there, just a bunch of empty shackles.
"Well shit." Jenny said, and just stared for a moment.
"I hate it when rescue missions start getting ahead of schedule." Jenny reached into her jacket and pulled out a weird looking cube, it looked like it was Quay tech, but also human tech, some sort of Hybrid. Anya would love to study it.
"Ever play Backgammon?"
"Once or twice?" It better not be just a fancy looking doubling cube.... Though it had no numbers on it.
"It’s a doubling cube." Oh. "Only this little buddy raises the stakes on your soul."
* * * *
Jhe Aladdin hated having people in his mind, he'd had that too much as a child, and he wasn't about to take any more of it, thank you very much. Worse though, was that Aegenor had let Memnor into her mind, not knowing the consequences. Aladdin ran barefoot across the floor of the spaceship, the weird metallic flesh of the ship feeling cold but mushy, yet also hard. He ran silently. Occasionally he'd encounter one of the aliens that ran the ship; usually Aladdin would have been able to sneak by them no problem, and some of them he did, but he'd been cut up a bit, and so when one saw him he would avoid the talon on the thing and get wrapped up in the rest of it so he could jam the scalpel he'd taken from the room between one of the alien's segments, the trip to get it in there only cutting him up more. But he killed them, or mostly did. After he split them in two the two halves just sort of thrashed and screamed, and Aladdin didn't stick around to see if anyone came for help. Aladdin ran, his legs burned, but he knew where he was going. When Memnor was in his head, he'd sneaked a thin peek himself, just to see the layout of the ship. Aladdin knew exactly where to go.
* * * *
Aegamemnor puzzled at its old office. The furniture wasn't designed for her to sit in, obviously, and wasn't very comfortable. If Memnor was in control, it would want to hop to a new body, and if Aegenor were in control, she'd want Memnor out as well. But neither of them were in charge now were they? Aegamemnor sat down awkwardly on a squishy cylinder that seemed to have been meant to comfortably coil around, in fact she knew it had been. It was strange. She was in charge, on the council, working for the Gambler... But always friendless. In all her memories she was always alone no matter who she was. Aegamemnor looked around her old room, and listened to the screaming in her head from the voices she used to be.
She would be better than them. Memnor was a fool and so was Aegenor. Aegamemnor would trump both of them, because she had both of their experiences, and could see that both of them had lived meaningless lives. Aegamemnor would rule the universe... But she would need people on her side to do that. Just then, an opportunity arose to give it a shot.
Jhe Aladdin stood before Aegamemnor, shirtless, shoeless, wearing pants at least, bloody, ichory, and holding a scalpel. He grimaced.
"Memnor. Get out of her head."
"Memnor is gone. So is Aegenor before you ask. I'm me now."
"So you’re a combined consciousness?" He seemed to inspect her, like he could see her souls through her clothing or something.
"Yes, call me Aegamemnor."
"The idiot who burned a thousand ships?"
"The sacker of Troy."
"I know a Troy, he's a nice guy. Not too bright though."
"So easy to sack."
"Paris would be unhappy to hear that."
"Paris is being sacked right now by my agents. Well, that and carpet bombed. You know, I didn’t understand this before I had a body with a bi-gender system, but you are attracted to that revolutionary girl in your memories aren't you? Nightingale?"
Aladdin pointed the scalpel at her, as though he had something far more deadly... Though then again the thing was still dripping ichor. "You shut up about her."
"You know, I have the memories of countless beings. Many from earth. Did you know her mother is dying there according to medical records we stole?"
"You looked that up just to taunt me?" he sneered. She shrugged.
"I didn't have to, it’s all in my head, ready to be pulled out a moment’s notice. I am a library Aladdin, the knowledge of Memnor with the practicality of Aegenor. I know a lot of things. I know that you haven't even told your little lovebird you love her, you haven't even kissed her. She's still out of your reach, you're coated in blood and she doesn't care-"
"-She's fighting right now to! For something greater then herself!"
"And it will always be greater then you, wont it Aladdin? No matter what happens, whether you win the war or lose it, she'll never be done with her cause." Aladdin was circling her, seething with rage, his feet, though bleeding still moving with the careful footwork of a professional poison pill. Not bad for a seventeen year old. Aegamemnor prepared to go to the next room over though, Aladdin wouldn't mind.
"She will be done, when Earth is free, we can be together. I can wait for that. She's worth it."
Aegamemnor just smiled, and sent a thought to the wall computer. "When Earth is free, she'll have to help rebuild. She'll take up some sort of responsibility there, that’s just who she is, and she still won't have time for you."
"I'll be there, we can be a partnership."
"You're a fool. She'll walk off with one of the people she fought with on Earth if anything, someone who knows where she grew up, like that Jack boy she knew. She won't want you, the Gambler's little lapdog." Aladdin heard the machinery in the wall start to hum. He wasn't sure whether to turn and look or keep his eyes focused on Aegamemnor, so he kept walking so he could see both... With gave Aegamemnor the chance to spring towards the swiftly rising wall. Aladdin curses and charged after her. Behind the office was a series of very thin catwalks over what looked like molten copper. Aladdin tried hard not to roll his eyes that Memnor had a secret door to the food storage area. It was a giant fondue pot of metal, and Aegamemnor suddenly realized it wasn't a coil, and traversing this was in fact more dangerous for her then Aladdin. The metal was hot under Aladdin's feet, but he paced forward slowly.
"You don't have any rights to my memories. And you may know my dreams and my thoughts, but you don't know Nightingale. She's the best woman I've ever met, she's a hero, she's brave, and I'd die for her. I don't care if she ever reciprocates what I feel." He stared her in the eyes, "She's worth it. I'm just sorry I couldn't save Aegenor. But now that she's gone, there's nothing I can do about that." Aegamemnor shrugged, "Well, there is one thing you can do to prove your love for Nightingale-- do what the rest of your friends have been doing! Die for a cause." Aegamemnor ran at Aladdin, and he slashed at her, which she blocked with her metal arm. She kneed him, which he took, but he jammed the scalpel into her forearm with a surgeon's precision, and her hand went limp, the scalpel also surged with power, and he let go, cursing. She punched him, and he rolled forward with it, and bit her face, digging his teeth into her cheek. She hadn't expected that.
Fine, she thought, we'll do this the old fashioned way, after all she'd only tried this before in another life. Aegamemnor took a deep breath, and plunged her mind into Aladdin's.
Aladdin's mind, when entered without the guise of a story, was like something out of a dream. Aegamemnor stood in a landscape made entirely of the colors black and white- no shades in-between. White rivers with black lines showing their borders. Black dirt that blended together till you kicked up individual granules. There stood Aladdin, in color.
"Welcome Aegamemnor, to my mind. You think you're so clever but-"
Aegamemnor screamed, she fell to the floor, clutching the bleeding hole in her head where there used to be an eye. Aladdin turned to see Backgammon Jenny, standing there, goggles up, looking coldly down at Aegamemnor, a shocked Anya standing not too far behind her.
"Aladdin, go with Anya. You two get the rest of the prisoner's free and get us back onto your ship. "Jenny, she-"
"Aladdin, shut up." She looked into his brown eyes with a cold fervor, and he stepped back. "I made your dad a promise long ago I'd protect you." Aegamemnor screamed, her blood dripping into the copper bellow, sizzling.
"And that includes doing the things you never should have to do. Like what I'm about to. Things you shouldn't have to live with."
"Jenny, we could save her somehow."
"You know better than me we can't. You met Jade." Aladdin nodded. Anya looked between them. "You're going to execute Aegenor?" Aladdin walked away, "Aegenor is dead Anya. You're just looking at her shell. She would have hated being someone else’s puppet. She wasn't nice, but she deserved better than this, and her soul deserves some rest." Anya bit her lip. Aegamemnor tried to sit up.
"I have the wisdom of tens of thousands of years! You can't just kill me." Aladdin turned around. "Jade made that same sort of deal, and now she's living it up inside a battleship when she should be dead, causing more pain. We deserve better than the kind of help you'd give." Aladdin turned again, and started walking out, “She was my friend. And you killed her. And I’m tired of that " Anya looked at Aegamemnor, still holding a hand up to her bleeding eye socket. Aegamemnor had started to laugh. Anya walked away without looking, till she was out of the room, and she and Aladdin heard the sound of steel being pulled out of a sheath, and then silence.
* * * *
Aladdin and Anya got Ulysses out, then Maximus, then the rest of the crew. The Cartel troops were understandably unhappy about having tendrils attached to the back of their spines, and also about being held prisoner in general.
“Is everyone mostly okay?” There was a grumbling of concurrence, “We need to wrest control of the ship from the remaining troops on board, will that be a problem.
“In Bowie’s name, let’s just get on with it.”
“I don’t worship Bowie.”
“He’s a prophet not God.”
“Well shut up I’m a Pagan.”
“And I don’t believe in any of your shit.”
“SHUT UP!” Aladdin looked over at Ulysses, and smiled in approval.
“Thank you Mr. Hypercube. Now, I don’t care where you’re from, or what you’re doing. We need to work together to take over this ship, for the sake of staying alive and also getting paid.”
“So what do we have to do?”
“Kill or capture the rest of the crew.”
“Do we have to do it with so much diversity.” Bowie’s bow tie, was he really having this conversation?
“Yes, we really have to do it with so much diversity. As of right now the Moopet of Space has the Interfaith Diversity Murder-Squad as its crew, so go live up to its name.”
Aladdin raised his fist in the air, and just yelled, it seemed like the thing to do. They yelled back, or maybe cheered. He wasn’t sure. Either way, the easiest way to control a mob who disagrees with each other is apparently to give them a name, tell them to kill some people, and then yell like a howler monkey. He’d have to remember that.
“Interfaith Diversity Murder-Squad? Really?” Anya muttered.
“I was thinking on my feet.”
“If you ever want new feet, I can hook you up with improvements.” Anya and Aladdin laughed, and the Interfaith Diversity Murder-Squad walked off to live up to their name.
Chapter 14: The Doubling Cube
A doubling cube is used in the game of backgammon to raise the stakes of the game. Players take turns with it raising the betting, each time doubling the rate the game is played for, first by 2, then 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc. Backgammon Kate made her gamble. She turned the cube, and doubled her wager.
When the last bits of Aegenor heard “she was my friend,” come out of Aladdin’s mouth, the confusion and sorrow she felt was inexpressible. She strained at the edges of Aegamemnor's brain, and Aegamemnor was surprised it was Aegenor that could reach from the depths of her psyche rather than Memnor. But Aegamemnor had nothing to worry about, after all, she was about to die. Backgammon Jenny snapped her goggles down over her eyes, and lined her sword up with Aegamemnor's neck. Aegamemnor laughed, and closed her one eye, listening to her own blood hiss as it dripped into the molten copper below. She thought of all her life could have been, and never had been, and somewhere in the back of her head Memnor panicked, and Aegenor cried, and Aegamemnor could only see the hilarity of the whole thing. I mean, she was just born, so old, and about to die! All those dreams of Godhood were ridiculous in hindsight, all those things that should have been or were supposed to be, they were only memories, and her memories were only as real as the story of her creation, a saga of betrayal, failure, malice, and idiocy that climaxed in her mind existing. She felt the whoosh of the sword swing up, and she laughed, and then the sword swung down, and stopped an inch from her face. She stopped laughing, and looked up and Backgammon Jenny, so stared down cold and blank. She was going to speak, but Jenny shoved the butt of her sword into Aegamemnor's mouth, and put a single finger over her own.
"So, you're a combined being now, like Jakata was. I never have had the pleasure before. What’s it like in there, crowded?" She pulled the sword butt from Aegamemnor's mouth.
"It’s just me in here now."
"A pity. Are you sure."
"The other voices that make me up are fading into oblivion."
"Not a pity then, I was worried I'd come all this way for nothing." Jenny began wiping her sword off on her skirt. "Tell me then, the memories of Memnor are now in Aegenor's brain-"
"-whatever, the body's brain permanently?"
"They're mine now."
"Awesome sauce." Jenny reached into her coat and pulled a cube, that looked like Quay tech, but had the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 written on it.
"Looks like my bet's about to pay off." Jenny seemed to focus, and the cube began to glow with Kizen energy. Jenny reached out, and touched Aegamemnor's head. She tried to lean back from it, but couldn't, and soon enough, there were four people in the room. Not the room they had been in, a different one. Memnor, Aegenor, Jenny, and Aegamemnor herself, who looked like a strange amalgam of her 'parents' here, all standing on what looked like a spider-web. Jenny was crawling on it.
"Welcome to my mind. I hope you enjoy it here. But not all of you will be here long."
"Indeed they won't, only I'll be walking out of here." Aegamemnor chided.
"You can't let me die!" Memnor moaned, "I have the knowledge of Eons, off dying stars and the path of galaxies."
"I am you. None of that dies." Jenny squinted at them. She needed to play this right, and carefully.
"Aegenor, do you know who I am?" She seemed startled she was being asked to speak.
"Of course, you're Backgammon Jenny, right hand lady of the Nest."
"Quite right. But you don't really know me. Now Aegenor, you're going to be walking out of here with your own body, and we'll be killing these other two. How does that sound?"
"I want them gone."
Jenny flashed her teeth, "then this should be fairly simple."
Aegamemnor didn't know what Jenny thought she could do, but she'd never seen Jenny's memories. "So Memnor," Jenny said, "let’s get you out of the way." Jenny breathed out white sulfur, and the air stank of mint. She delved into memory, and pulled at thought.
Memnor was a young creature in its coil hole, and it remembered itself before its creation, that was before it became Memnor. It wasn't Memnor yet, it was simply another coil. Like the other coils it shared its memories freely, for they were all coils, and all part of the larger whole. There was no one, only the us, and Memnor felt safe. Memnor had forgotten what it was like to not have a name, to be part of the larger whole rather than above it. It had lived so long in the minds of others, it had forgotten its own... And now it didn't even have its own.
"No!" Aegamemnor cut in, wiping the memory away as they stood within the heart of a moon made nearly entirely of gallium, that melted beneath the fingertips of the mercenary expedition that Memnor had taken the memories of.
"You can't separate him. If he starts being himself, I stop being."
"But I am myself."
Jenny exfoliated warmth, and the planet began melting and collapsing in on itself, drowning them in liquid metal.
"You are only the combination of parts that make your whole."
"And what combination of parts are you Jenny? You're no more than a King's fool and a babysitter." Jenny was right next to her, and ran her fingers through her hair. Aegenor watched herself cautiously.
"I am the daughter of a fool and the apprentice to a Wizard. I am a punk rock graffiti queen samurai on rollerblades. I am anyone I want to be. I'm Morgan Le Fey, I'm your dead cat, I'm Backgammon Jenny, and you'd better remember me wholey, because your memories are going to live on a lot longer then you are."
"So said Rome." The Togas were brilliant, but the Vandals were far less so.
"Nero fiddles while Rome burned." Aegamemnor rose the city in inferno.
"Actually," Jenny said at the head of the classroom, pointing at the chalkboard, "that is a myth, he was actually very concerned about the burning. You really should take notes."
Aegenor slammed her book shut in the front row, and Jenny ran to dodge the pages the size of buildings. Luckily, the ink letters were as high as trees, so they prevented her from getting crushed, and she was able to make it to the boats. Aegamemnor however was going to burn the ships, so no one could leave the siege of Troy, which would not do at all, so Jenny had to get her horn out to break down the walls of Jericho. When the walls fell the siege was done and she could move her wooden horse in-- but Aegamemnor was ready for her and it turned out she'd been leading her wooden horse right into the glue factory. That wouldn't do at all. At least she could break it down, because inside of it she had been hiding her spaceship.
Unfortunately the spaceship was crewed by monkeys, but the first animal in space was actually Laika, the dog, so the Soviet Union threw them all a Parade on Communist Gongen, where Kalingkata was born, Aladdin's father.
Aegamemnor stopped. Aladdin's father. This wasn't supposed to go there. This was a wild goose chase.
"Aegenor, listen to me."
"I'm here," she whispered from beneath the misty surf."
"I want you to remember Aladdin."
"I know you've been alone Aegenor, so very alone."
"I have." The ocean wept.
"But it doesn't have to be that way. I'm going to share something with you, a memory about Aladdin's father."
"No!" Aegamemnor yelled.
"I want to see it."
Memnor twitched at the memory of seeing memories, and Aegamemnor had never been more afraid in her short life. They were waking up. She could feel their dreams coalescing into daylight. She could feel herself beginning to not exist.
“She’s dead Kalingkata, this is done. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. Go home, use the fat check I just cut you, and drink some mimosas.” Kalingkata shook his head, “Something is bothering me about this Hexie. Something she said before she died.”
“She was crazy, don’t go taking her too seriously.” Kalingkata nodded, but later he left. He searched out Backgammon Kate’s address, and hacked the locks. When he entered in, he found the place smelled disgusting. He turned the lights on, and made his way through the place. She hadn’t been dead that long, it shouldn’t smell this bad, he thought. But he soon learned the why. There was a crib, and in that crib was a baby. It looked like it hadn’t eaten in some time, and it smelled like death and shit. Kalingkata pulled the baby out, which was too weak to even cry, and changed its diaper. There were sores all over the baby girl from the exposure, and Kalingkata was revolted at Backgammon Kate. Even if she’d come back right after her attempt to kill Hexie, things wouldn’t have been much better. And this baby suffered the consequences. He carefully fed the baby pedialite, and took it to the hospital where he faked some identification, paid the bills from Kate’s accounts, and then marched straight over to the orphanage.
Kalingkata stood in the cold, the snow falling from the roof of the dome to simulate winter melting on his face, and as it hit the artificially heated pavement so road crews weren’t necessary. In his arms was a tiny baby, named Jenny, and Hexie if she knew would think him a sap.
He walked in.
“Are you dropping off a child?” The lady at the desk said, nonchalantly.
“Sort of. How much does this place cost to run.”
“I don’t know, I’d have to ask my boss.”
“Great. I’ve set up a trust fund for this child, and another fund which will channel directly to this facility. If you take care of this child, raise her to be smart and independent, well fed, well educated, then every year you will receive a million credits starting with a bonus one million today.” The lady was silent.
“Get out of here.”
“You don’t think I’m serious?” Kalingkata hit some keys on his arm PC, “a gesture of good faith. Check your accounts.” The lady did. She raised her eye brows.
“I think my boss should come talk to you.”
“I think she should.”
The meeting went easy. Kalingkata filled out some forms, and left with a handshake and a threat.
“I’ll be checking up on her, and if she isn’t happy, I will destroy all of you in ways you have yet to even dream of. Have a good day!” And he walked out, leaving a baby, all his money, and his guilt at the door.
"He really did that for you? Why would he do that?"
"Because he was kind." Aegenor rose from the surf, naked as she'd never been.
"I want to get out of here."
Aegamemnor wailed, a fading wail. She had only known her own existence for so briefly. Memnor trembled with the memories, and tried to flee, running through the void of memory like a lost bird. Jenny had been ready for it. Aegamemnor was close to being a color that you forgot how to see, a note of music your ears couldn't hear.
"I want to exist."
"I want to be Aegenor, whoever that is."
And suddenly there was only Aegenor, and Jenny, standing alone in a room of boiling copper, while the Doubling Cube glowed blue with the soul of Memnor. Jenny smiled and pocketed it, and then looked down at Aegenor. Pitiful Aegenor, so sure of herself, bleeding out of her face, brought down so low. Jenny pulled her med kit out, and began to sterilize the wound, and applied the coagulant to stop the massive bleeding.
"Thank you." Aegenor muttered.
"Don't thank me, I cut your eye out."
"But you saved me." She whimpered.
"Don't thank me. I'm not going to be kind. I'm not my boss."
* * * *
Jenny walked onto the bridge where Aladdin and the Hypercubes had led the Cartel troops to a resounding victory over the troops on Memnor's ship. She had believed in the kid the whole way. Aladdin was talking to a tall Maverick man.
"Now Maximus, I want the whole ship to blow up, and it needs to look like an accident. An accident that happens after we get out of shooting range."
"Why an accident?"
"So when we get out of shooting range no one wants to follow us too badly." Maximus shrugged.
"Whatever you want, boss."
"That’s my man!" Jenny was proud, Aladdin was growing into quite the young man. He looked over and waved at her, she retracted the wheels on her rollerblades so they became boots, and clomped over. "I see you got the ship in order."
"It won't be in order for long, we're blowing it up."
"Smart plan. Did you raid the computer systems?" Aladdin gave her the most condescending look a beaten and tortured young man who still hadn't located his shirt could.
"Jenny, really, who do you think I am?"
"Alright, alright, you raided their computers."
"How did you get on here anyways?"
"Does it matter?" He leaned on the console.
"Stowed away in the Cartel shuttle that offloaded your little troupe here." She gestured with her Katana, the Cartel troops were looting the ship with a glee and fervency that could only be done by men and woman who were aware the ship they were on was going to become a firecracker fairly soon.
"Speaking of which, I have a favor to ask of you Aladdin. I need you to drop me off on the Honor of the Outcast where your dad is working on the way back. I need to give him something it would be better if Hexie didn't have." That she didn't say in English, she said that in the code language the Nest used. Aladdin knew it, he'd figured it out at an early age.
"I don't know what you just said," he said in English, "But it won't be a problem, I'll drop you off." He said in code. Jenny nodded, good boy. She started walking off, but she realized there was someone right behind her, could only be one person by the sound of it.
"What you want, Anya?"
"I just wanted to tell you I really admire you, l wish I could go around having adventures like you do. I dream of that." Jenny kept walking.
"You'll get your chance, Anya, and then you won't ever wish you dreamed of it again."
* * * *
Aladdin sat in Chess Mistress Hex's foyer, he was wearing a new suit, the old one was exploded aside from the pants, which had been ripped up and dirtied beyond reasonable use anyways. He hadn't been out on many missions on his internship, he mainly made Hex's coffee and managed her schedule, but that had been quite the adventure. He thought of Aegenor, he hadn’t gotten along with her… But She was a good person, and deserved better than what had happened to her. At least Jenny killed her so she didn’t become like Jade… He thought of the Hypercubes, of Anya, whom he hoped would be forever better than her mother, and whom he had told on their parting to her face he had no idea who her mother was. Of course he knew, it was obvious, but he couldn't tell her. She deserved better than that, she deserved the mother she dreamed about. Ulysses, her brother deserved the father he dreamed of to, but Aladdin had no idea who that was. Aladdin thought of Nightingale, who he missed, who he couldn't wait to see again, who had fought so hard her whole life. If only Aladdin could live up to that level of commitment, that level of devotion.
Of course he could, he realized, it was to her, and the dream of her dreams coming true. Aladdin looked up at the Picasso painting Hex had casually hung in her foyer; Nightingale would never have been able to afford that. That was when he realized, his life really was defined by the women around him. He latched onto them, he fought for them, he called on them for strength... But what did Jhe Aladdin want? When the story was told, what would his place be in it? Would he be the hero? Or would he be the sidekick? Would he be on the side, supporting the winners, the Nightingales and Backgammon Jenny’s of the world, the Anya’s who dreamed of adventure, the Nightingales who dreamed of freedom, the Jenny's who dreamed of independence.
Yes. Yes he would. And he'd be okay with that. He didn't have to be the hero, he just had to be happy. That was the moment Aladdin realized that being a man wasn't being in charge of the world or others, it was being in charge of yourself.
"Aladdin dear, could you come in? I've heard you had quite the adventure."
Aladdin unbuttoned his top button, and loosened his tie, himself indeed.
"Chess Mistress Hex, you have no idea the kind of game I've been playing. It would make less sense to you then Red Breaker chess."
* * * *
Anya Hypercube sat in the living room, and watched Valentinez march his toy horse along the floor. It didn't feel the same. She'd been back for a few days now, and nothing felt the same. When her family ate dinner, what had been the most joyous time of the day when they had a communion of unity, felt hollow compared to her time in the stars. She went out at night at stared at the sky, in the spot she had sat with Aladdin. The stars were so vast, and her mother was out there somewhere, as was Ulysses dad. She did some searching, and found that Geraldine had once lived on Gongen for a while.... That was all she needed to know. It didn't take her long to decide she was going to run away from home and go adventuring. "Want to play a game Anya?"
Anya shrugged, "Sure, why not Valentinez, what game?"
"I dunno." She sighed, and ran through games in her head.
"Backgammon?" Oddly fitting, she smirked.
"Sure!" Anya reached into her pocket and pulled out the parting gift Jenny had given her. "You're in luck, while I was gone I got a special tool for the game!" Valentinez looked at the cube, it glowed blue, almost supernaturally.
"What is it?"
"It’s just a doubling cube silly, now let’s play." She set the cube down to "2" and set the board.
Inside the cube, Memnor screamed, silently, eternally, and hopelessly. Later, he was put away into the game cabinet, and no one ever knew he should be God.
Chapter 15: The Good Sin
Carnival Reich was formed by a group of misfits on Ceres station in the early 1400's. They had been poor and on the streets, and sold their own blood to buy their instruments. They began as a cover band, performing a lot of religious rock music, but eventually they began writing their own tunes. Once they got hits, they catapulted to success, being one of the few bands to tour both Earth and Gongen. Their music is found in the ears of many a teenager, and in the ears of Backgammon Jenny. They wrote songs about love, about violence, about freedom. Jenny liked all those things. Aegenor had only known the second one.
Aegenor had been a box a long time, drugged. She didn't know that, really, she'd just woken up chained in the cell she was in.
"She's awake, took her long enough. You drugged her too much."
"I was in the field, it’s hard to judge there."
Aegenor's vision wasn't the same, with only one eye, her depth perception was all messed up, but she could see Backgammon Jenny, and... A Quay? Where was she? Jenny walked over to her, and looked her in the eye.
"I want you to know that I'm sorry for what I'm about to do. I'm so very sorry."
Aegenor shook, "please, just let me go. I'm sorry."
"You have memories we need, and there is only one person who can get them out of you. Are you ready?" Aegenor heard a voice in her head, a voice she could somehow tell Jenny could hear to.
"Oh, I'm very ready. Thank you Jenny. I'm so very grateful for your loyalty to Kalingkata!" Jenny looked away, and shuddering, walked away, and out of the room, with a parting,
"Just get the information we need for the war Jade. I don't want anything more to do with this."
"Hello Aegenor, you're Aladdin's friend right? We're going to have a lot of fun together, I'm his mommy. And I'm not going to lie, this is going to hurt a lot Aegenor."
"What do you want from me?"
"The plans of the council's fleet. You have the memories of one of the council's member's, who is now deceased of course, but those are very valuable to us here. And to me especially."
"You're a ghost? Like Aladdin said..."
"No Aegenor, you should be bowing. I'm not just a ghost. I control your life and death, so from this moment on, I'm your God." Aegenor strained at her chains. There was no way to break them.
"You like struggling, that’s good." The sadism in Jade Darkshadow's voice was thick as infected butter. "You don't control me, I'm me."
"You poor naive fool, nothing that's yours isn't mine anymore. And you'll be my ticket to power. I'll crush Doitzel's fleet, and I'll enjoy every moment of it."
Aegenor screamed for help, but no help came. Then Jade pushed herself into the deepest recesses of Aegenor's mind, and the screams and tears didn't stop for hours.
It didn't take that long for Jade to get the information she needed for the war, she was just having so much Goddamn fun, and Jade knew that Jenny could hear every one of the screams from outside the door.
After a while, Jenny reached into her coat with shaking hands, and put her headphones on. She jacked up the Carnival Reich till she could barely hear the screams, and listened to songs about freedom to cover up the agony of the freedom she'd destroyed.
This was what Backgammon Jenny did, made the Devils bargains the saints couldn't for the sake of Heaven.... It was wasn't it? This was the right thing? Aegenor's scream cut through the music, and Jenny tried to turn the music up louder, but it wouldn't go any louder.
Something’s she would just have to live with.
* * * *
"So that’s it." Aegenor said, curled against the wall of the cell, spooning through her mushy prison rations. It had taken bribes of the kind I never thought I would have to give to get this interview, but I needed to know the rest of the story. She'd been very helpful, especially since she had so many people's memories in her head. She was a sad girl, and understandably so. I think if she could kill herself, she would have, but she was too valuable an informant. So here she was in a cell on the Honor of the Outcast.
"So, this story about Jhe Aladdin, it’s really about Backgammon Jenny in the end... Weird."
Her one eye turned towards me, "You missed the whole point of the story, Mr. Fredrickson. This story is about Jade Darkshadow. It’s about how she took a boy and tried to make him into a weapon and failed, about how she had a daughter who rose above anything she could be, how she corrupted Kalingkata's most trusted lieutenant, and how she destroyed me, and destroyed so much... And is only going to destroy more."
I stopped writing.
"What do you mean, 'Destroy more'?"
"I mean, this war is going to be over soon." She stared into me, her eye like Odin's. "And we're all going to wish we'd made a higher wager at the start of it."
The ship rocked with a hit from some far off weapon, and she stared at me till I left, the only Aegenor, alone, like she had always been, cast away from the starlight.