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Stephen Dee
1:00 AM 14th November 2023
fiction

Blood Perfect: Part Eight

 
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Image by Gordon Taylor from Pixabay
Image by Gordon Taylor from Pixabay
Torrance leads her down the long, wide, galleried corridor. At a vaulted junction they leave the fluid curves of bitumen behind and from here the architecture gets pointy. Torrance's tight little arse shows through the strangely translucent fabric of his pantalons. Rux finds herself wondering more about the soldier's flirtatious uniform than she does about the creators of this space. What are Temperance thinking? That they can defeat the Gnostics with sexuality? Perhaps it's more of a wind up. A red rag to a bull type of thing. Maybe it's specifically for her benefit. It's certainly working.

The vaulted ceilings are not, however, Temperance at all. They have found this space ready-made and haven't had the time or the inclination to make it over. It is notably different from the fractal architecture that prevails elsewhere. If she could only take a moment to think about the implications of this instead of losing herself in Torrance's buttocks. It's old, certainly, but what era, she can't identify. They take a side passage, little more than a crack in the wall between the entrances to a pair of galleries. This takes them immediately downwards, quite steeply. With the walls so close, Rux is conscious of her own breath and she tries to slow it. She trusts Temperance but this is still making her nervy. It's gloomy in here, the only light coming from phosphorescent strips in the ceiling which are getting increasingly further away.

By the time the lighting strips are so distant as to become vague, phosphorescent tramlines, the perspective in front of them shifts and the floor levels out. They shimmy round a glitch in the sidewall and find themselves facing, still some way off, a vertical strip of light, marking the exit to the passage. Torrance has become nothing more than a breathing, floating lump of darkness in front of her.

''Nearly there now,'' he says thickly.

When they do, finally, emerge, Rux is stunned by the vastness of the place. She'd been expecting a bunker and has found herself in a cathedral. The way the light works down here makes the building feel as though it's outside. Huge, stained glass windows which pre-date led-gel by hundreds of spans are backlit with intense levels of luminosity - intense enough to make it seem like sunlight pouring through those images of ancient princes participating in what are even now only half-forgotten stories. Tales of power and betrayal and lurking menace. The window closest to Rux, off the left transept, is divided into a triptych. The first pane shows a figure who she takes to be Stokes Braveen, the famous Cathracite scholar, reading from his Book of Spells and gesturing across the bay window to the third pane with the Sigil of Battle-death. In the second pane, Spirit unlocked, taken from the Body and looking skyward. The third pane begins with a fleeing horse and ends in the web of time, eight eyes piercing the gloom; four in the corners and four randomly scattered about the interior.

''I'll leave you two to it,'' Torrance says, gesturing down the aisle before scuttling away through the crack in the wall.

So far as she can tell, there's no one else about. She walks down the wide aisle towards the apse, in no particular rush. You don't rush through a space like this, you glide. The apse itself is a painted dome lit from beneath by a band of stained glass. The fenestration this time depicts the Battle of Tubrik's Deeper, which humanity wins at the cost of its soul. Tubrik's Deeper represents a paradox because the only way the battle can be won is through hatred, through the shear thrill of seeing an enemy defeated, not for the glory of winning or the existential need to win but plain, good old fashioned bloody mindedness.

Rux drifts to a place directly beneath the dome's lantern and it feels like she's soaring. The way the lower panes are lit from beneath, the whole multiverse is turned upside down. Above, or is it below? In the dome itself are the most beautiful paintings she's ever seen. While the window panes show the earthly realm, the painted dome reveals an equivalent battle taking place in the heavens, between the angels and the Rachnacine. The philosophy of the Cathracites was that the angels 'fell’ into Gnosis, into a material form through some sort of wyrmal leading out of Gilbert Space. Another interpretation that has been applied to this school is that the Rachnacine were displaced and this act created an equal and opposite displacement of the angels into another plain of being. Both versions account for the disappearance - and therefore the pre-existence - of the angels but the Gnostics remain uncomfortable with it. Any philosophy that doesn't state, quite clearly, that the angels became the Gnostics is heresy in their view.

Whatever the metaphysical arguments, there is no question that Cathracite artwork is renowned for its beauty and incredibly rare. Rux has only ever seen it before in digital version and even then only a few pieces exist. What she's seeing here is sublime. It can only be the original artwork. Should she record it? Is this some kind of test of trust? She looks about her for evidence of a camera, or a person, even, hiding.

She looks back down the aisle and can't see anything suspicious. She turns to face the choir and sees only a painted backdrop and two rows of pews. Then, as she is looking, a voice comes from exactly the spot she is looking at and space resolves itself into a person. It's not like the woman has just materialised from nowhere. She was clearly there all along. Rux was just looking at her wrongly.

''It was a refuge, this place,'' the woman says. ''A long time ago. Just as it is now.''

''You're telling me this place is Tubrik's Deeper?'' says Rux, astonished.

The woman is dressed in jeans and a top, neutral colours which, Rux realises, are designed to melt into any background. She is sitting at a small desk to one side of the choir, working on a slate.

''Not exactly,'' says the woman. ''The cathedral was a later addition, designed to attract pilgrims and replenish Cathracite funds. But Tubrik's Deeper is here, around us. Beneath us.''

The woman stands and moves towards Rux: ''I'm Kersten Karter. Thank you for coming.'' The woman has an eighth of a span on Rux but still and all, she's young for someone not born into it. Kersten holds out a hand, which Rux politely clasps. ''I come down here when I need to think. It seems to help.''

''It's a beautiful building. How did you find it?''

Kersten looks around the place and shrugs. ''Tea?''

Rux follows the other woman into an ante-room with less godly proportions. Kersten puts the kettle on.

''This utThalé,'' says Kersten, ''you're in contact with him?''

''I have a line to him, friend of mine.''

''What's it going to take to back him down?''

''The man's on a mission,'' says Rux. ''He's not going to back down.''

''I have Green, Camomile, Yorkshire.''

''Yorkshire, any day of the week.''

Kersten pops open the appropriate carton. ''We'll have to share a bag. War rations.''

''Thanks. I'll see if I can get some to you.''

''Yeah? How much is that going to cost me?''

''Good will, that's all.''

Kersten dibbles the bag into two steaming cups. '' You got that free, for now. So we're going to have to take him out?''

''Can't do that,'' says Rux. ''The other families would go scatty.''

''I've only got powdered milk.''

''Black's fine, thanks.''

''So who do I have to sleep with to get this sorted?''

''My guy can sort it. I'll do the sleeping with.''

Kersten smiles. ''Pleased to hear it.'' She puts a cup down on the table in front of Rux.

''He'd do it anyway. The sleeping with's incidental.''

''S'okay,'' says the older woman. ''You don't have to explain yourself.''

Rux feels herself blush. She's talking too much.

''How do you propose we work it?'' Kersten goes to the nub of the thing.

''I'm going to trust you,'' Rux says, ''for no good reason I can think of.''

Relax, says Lume. I know what I'm doing.

''Go on.''

''This has to stay between you and me.''

''Of course.''

''I mean it. Even the families don't know about this.''

''And utThalé?''

''I'm reasonably certain he doesn't know about it.''

''This... information. It'll end the war?''

''I believe it will. If we use it properly.''

''Then you have my word,'' says Kersten.

Easy does it...

''There's another party involved,'' says Rux. ''Non-human.''

Or just tell it like it is.

Kersten laughs. ''Yeah right,'' she says.

Rux takes a sip of tea. ''This is nice,'' she says. ''What do you think a Yorkshire actually is?''

''I've no idea,'' says Kersten. ''Just give it a minute.''

''Just give what a minute?''

Flick wakes to the stamp and throttle of industrial pistons. Flarestacks blister the space around them. She is standing on a metal grate. She can see an infinite amount of more of the same through the gantry beneath her and an infinite amount of the same above. Out beyond the gap the furnace releases liquid metal into blackened stone channels. She feels only the warmth of the prison cell - the warmth of the house of an elderly person. Too warm for her but not uncomfortably. Warm enough to shed her clothes.

She waits for Lume to update her but the memory, the feeling of the being inside her has gone. She has returned to the present but something is different, like a room in her house has been redecorated but she can't tell which. In front of her the door to a chamber of girders opens and a man occupies the door frame. He appears unwilling to step out onto the gantry. He is of an average size, but stocky, like a man made from armour. His hair is only an imprint on his head. A darker shade on the nub of him. He is dressed in Temperance colours, Belle Epoch style and looks suave in a mannered way and he flickers a little, like a man in an old-fashioned newsfeed. He beckons her into his room which is full of ancient tech; electrical equipment in racks, oscillators, radio transmitters.

''jeBruille,'' says Flick. ''What was in that Yorkshire?''

''The tea was just a device,'' says the man. ''Like this radar unit.'' He gestures to a boxy-looking thing with a circular screen flashing with dots. ''Essentially it's the Boomboom disabling the prison nanites.''

''Using Boomboom to communicate,'' says Flick. ''I'm impressed.''

The man fades out then back in again. He flicks another switch. ''It's a pain,'' he says.

''We're still learning. I thought I'd try it to introduce myself.''

''Show-off,'' says Flick. ''I was part of that research, back in the day.''

''I know. That's kind of the point.''

''And you're involved how?''

''We have a mutual interest in finding The Chemist,'' he says, by way of an answer.

''It can't do either of us any harm,'' says Flick. ''What's going on in the feed right now? I guess I'm kind of unconscious?''

''Sanctuary's been called,'' he says, fiddling with switches. ''While they fix the tech. We can talk, but only briefly.''

Inside this room the man's voice is the primary factor. Even though the furnace outside remains loud his voice is more than within the room, it is within her head, overlaid against the background noise, like an imaginary voice but his lips still move when he speaks.

''What is this place? I mean does it leak? It looks leaky as fuck to me.''

''It's just a construct. I have an interest in old stuff.'' He turns a dial.

''And you're the new boss?''

''No. But I'm pretty close. My name's Parx.''

''I've heard of you.''

''You have?''

''Your name came up the the hearings.''

''Ah. I suppose it would. arKhana and I go way back.''

''What is he now? To you I mean.''

''Our objectives overlap, that's all. I don't own him or anything.''

''Good. Tell me about this Chemist. I know him yes?''

''You may have worked with him before.''

''What's he been up to?''

''You've seen the vid.''

''What vid?''

''You've not seen the vid?''

''They told me it had something to do with wyrmal bio-tech.''

''We think he actually did make a wyrmal. He sent a vid.''

''I've not seen the fucking vid. He used the Boomboom substrate to make a wyrmal? That's awesome. I love this guy.''

''He used an upgrade. We're calling it Gamechanger.”

''Catchy. It would be possible to manipulate Gilbert Space using the substrate - if he went with it where I'm assuming he went with it.”

''Indeed. That would be a concern for us.''

''I can imagine. Evaporating customers. Not a good optic.''

Parx doesn't respond.

''Sorry, bad joke.''

Parx continues not to respond.

''Ok. So you want to meet up properly or what?''

''Of course. Open your eyes,'' he turns a dial.

Flick opens her eyes. It feels like a new thing. A whole new dimension. She is lying on a bed in a cell in the Gnostic Penitentiary. The led-gel walls read like a cathedral, something like Tubrik's Deeper, where she met with Kersten. But not that. It's taken from her head.

''You back?'' says arKhana.

The Davy-bird clambers through the air to a perch at the bottom of Flick's bed.

The led-gel returns to a mercury sheen.

Her nose has been bleeding. Dead nanites leaving her system. She doesn't know if the clarity she feels is because the nanites are no longer interfacing with her thoughts or if she's still high.

''How you feeling?'' says arKhana.

''I feel good,'' says Flick, swinging her feet off the side of the bed. She looks to the mirrored walls. ''Looks like we're back online.''

''Looks like we are.'' arKhana strides deliberately from his bed to Flick's and sits down next to her. ''I thought I'd OD'd you. I was worried.''

''How do you think my penitence is coming along? Have I blown it completely?''

''I don't think anybody can figure out what you're owning up to!''

arKhana puts this across as a joke but there is an underlying message: you're doing ok - don't blow it now.

''Love or duty,'' she says. ''Depending on the edit.''

''That's what you think you're guilty of? I think you might have to be a little more forthcoming.''

''You mean no more metaphors? Surely that's expected. I have rank.''

''The people want nothing more than to hear someone with rank speak candidly, honestly.''

''Is this your bid for a higher floor or what?''

''Ten thousand likes,'' says the bird.

''For whom?''

''arKhana of course. That's the most he's had since he's been in here. It would appear he's touched a nerve.''

Flick looks him in the eye. She sees her old lover there, his subtlety, his gamesmanship. He's enjoying himself.

''No one likes a drug dealer,'' she says, dismissively. ''Even when it's legal.''

''Or a mutattë...''

Flick bristles. ''I never said that. Is that what you're accusing me of? Racism?''

arKhana shrugs: ''Maybe it's the Boomboom talking.''

''jeBruille,'' says Flick. ''You'd sink to any depth.''

''Hey, doll. I've dealt a lot of drugs in my time. All I'm saying is, you took it pretty damn quick for a novice - hell, you didn't even think twice. And it didn't make you sick neither.''

''You're accusing me of being a user now? A woman in my position?''

''A woman of your former position. Exiled for what? War Crimes? Double dealing more like. Espionage. Returns, post-prohibition, post Unification, to serve her time. Why's that then? You looking to get back into politics? Everyone knows you were a Federalist back then. Probably still are.'' arKhana spits out the words.

What's he playing at now?

''Twenty-five thousand likes,'' says the Davy.

''Popular bloke,'' says Flick. ''Quite the entertainer.''

''Not for him,'' says the Davy. ''They were for you.''

''There's a lot of them out there,'' says arKhana, dismissively.

''Federalists?''

''A lot more than there were in your day. Maybe they want you back,'' he snarls.

''Seventy-five thousand likes,'' says the bird.

Flick gets to her feet. ''I need a bath,'' she says. ''I feel weird.''

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