Blood Perfect: Part Two By Stephen Dee
Above the portal, looking down at Flick, a Davy-bird fettles on its perch. Its tail feathers are splayed at peculiar angles, its wings slightly crooked. The head is clunky and oddly shaped, made from too many pieces. The colour of it also lacks elegance - a chaotic mixture of silvers, metallic turquoises, reds, blacks and greys. It is a cold, forlorn, ugly-looking thing. It squats there, fettling and whirring like animated wreckage.
The portal itself is obscure-fielded. The room Flick has been brought to is a converted sex-apartment above Case's. Apart from the field partition it's basically just a cheap hotel suite. There's a separate bathroom, a kitchenette, desk and chair, double bed. The only thing she's missing is the view.
The introduction of field technology changed the nature of the space inside the mountain in ways difficult to quantify. Artificial Gravity has been put to a number of uses, some of them, such as transportation, obvious, and others, such as the application of force-fields more subtle and insidious. The fractal honeycomb structure of the mountain pre-dates human occupation, according to most sensible theories. In the places where the original form has been retained, each part of the structure flows into the next with almost musical harmony. Everything flows and splits, flows and splits. Caverns split into galleries which flow through tunnels and split into chambers; the chambers flow into corridors which split into domestic, human-scale pods. Everything is open, everything flows but, while the pods look out onto larger spaces, they are angled so that nothing looks into them. It offers a perfectly open privacy. Uncanny, at first, for the new visitor but, once acclimatised, the geometry of the interior becomes so intricate and diverse it counteracts any sense of claustrophobia that living inside a mountain ought to bring.
On a cultural level, the tech has led to the establishment of a number of ideologies. Some say the interruptions to Flow have brought about a Karmic Episode, culminating in the rise and rise of the immoral economies. Others argue that the introduction of human things has made the place warmer, softer, more comfortable. Some say the structure itself is a natural formation, others that it was made by a pre-civilised people, yet others that it was created by angels. There are almost as many different ideas about the place as there are people that live here.
The Gnostics, with their quartz-like eyes, form a distinct ethnic group amongst the various tribes that live in the mountain. They are also, by far, the largest single coherent element of the population, making up about a third of the total. The Gnostics are powerful and have been here, it is said, from the beginning of the human project. They have been here so long, it is said, that their eyes have become like quartz and they can see in the dark. In the deeper, darker echelons of Gnostic society there is another reason given for their unique physiognomy. They say that the Gnostics were here before humanity even arrived; that they are the descendants of the angels themselves.
Flick shifts uncomfortably, adjusting her sitting position on the edge of the bed. It is possible that the Sinstrap has done some fundamental damage to her vagina. When it was sent through to her she had taken it in good faith. She genuinely thought the times had become safer for her.
The Davy-bird lurches from its shelf. It falls a cubit before some glitchy gyroscope sets it right. It somehow manages to remain airborne. Flick doesn't move from her place on the bed. She's been so lost in her thoughts she hasn't moved since Shem put her in here. The bird flies over to the entrance portal, releasing the field partition. Shem walks in, carrying Flick's kitbag, which he deposits by the bottom of the bed.
'What you got in there?' He rubs his shoulder.
'As if you didn't know.'
The Inquisitor enters the room as Shem prepares a seat for her. She's around Flick's age.
'Prefect neStelle,' says Shem.
'Beth,' says the Inquisitor. 'Please, sit.'
Flick sits. The Inquisitor readjusts the chair, seats herself. Shem remains standing over by the kitchenette.
'Interesting choice of clothes,' says neStelle, with a smirk in her voice.
'It was sent to me,' says Flick, looking from neStelle to Shem. 'I'm not entirely sure who by.'
'You took it for a symbol of parley?' she makes it seem as though Flick has been duped.
Shem holds up his hands. 'I was asked to send it. I didn't know what it was supposed to mean.'
neStelle looks up at Shem.
She looks at Flick. She removes her filo from her pocket and unfolds it to a slate. She diddles.
'Felice Rausch,' she states. 'Née Rux guFlecht, former matriarch of the guFlecht family, top tier of the Gnostic Hierarchy.'
She pauses for effect. 'One of The Seven.'
Flick looks her in the eye. Is she being accused of naivety?
neStelle continues: 'Exiled and de-named three sixteenths of a lifespan ago, at the age of three eighths, for crimes against the Gnostic Hierarchy.'
'I...' Flick begins her defence but the Prefect cuts her off with a sharp flick of the wrist.
'You've come back for your name and rank?'
'I thought there might have been... extenuating circumstances.'
'As implied by the sending of a token of parley?'
Flick nods, her heart sinking. The Davy-bird makes its awkward way back through the room and lands, somewhat clunkily, on the shelf above the sink, as if it has something to whisper to Shem. Shem looks at the bird, which offers its chin to him. He presses a switch there and turns the thing off.
'Can we speak off the record?' says neStelle. 'Do you mind?'
'Do I have a choice?'
No history of the Sinstrap would be complete without some mention of Mariella deKhnastre; she of the olive stockings and leather mittens. It was deKhnastre who really popularised the dress. Four spans ago the cult of the celebrity muckshifter had reached its zenith. Long before the invention of the field-grapple - or any other kind of A-G tech, the mines relied on mechanicals and the operators of those fearsome machines developed quite a reputation. deKhnastre had risen to fame on the back of her job as a Delta-fin rider, ripping the kimberlite out of shafts dug from caverns beneath the Hmnat Mass. At first there was some concern about extraction taking place so close to the Mass but the diamond trade at that point was making the city so wealthy people never complained for long, especially when the companies brought in such baroque-looking kit and such handsome women to work it. Although deKhnastre wasn't glamorous in the conventional sense, she was an artist on that thing and when the images started rolling out the whole mountain went crazy for her. Like some magnificent bird, she would squat, rocking slightly, on the edge of some precipice, before taking the plunge; then the delf-dive itself, that screech and scrawk of the talons against naked rock and the speeds she got up to before pulling into the side shafts, dodging the Bucketiers nearly at the speed of sound.
Then of course it came out she was raised in the shanties and that, along with her ethnic purity, elevated her practically to the level of a saint almost overnight. Svelte, who manufactured the Sinstrap, still, at this point, backed by the Gnostic Hierarchy, saw an opportunity to promote the Order and managed to develop a relationship with deKhnastre through the PR firm Purple Prose. One of their clients was a firm called Starbuilder, who designed and constructed the mechanicals and Starbuilder had leverage with Kimberstract, the mining company. Kimberstract were backed to the hilt by the Hierarchy.
Purple Prose was run by a man named Silver muTintht, a mutattë who's speciality was Soft Spin; a rare and expensive skill, even back then. muTintht played the long game, he placed concepts subtly, nurtured them, let them develop slowly until they took on a life of their own and eventually just blended in, became part of the fabric of things. muTintht took up a squat in a half-pod, deep in the Chimoxtl shanties, backstory a tale of woe; extramarital trauma, gambling, Djïnn addiction, the whole bit. Got himself hooked up with deKhnastre's sister - an addict herself. It wasn't hard, he just had to pose as a mark, then a John, then a father figure. To be fair, he did get her to ease off a bit, which is why deKhnastre eventually took an interest in him. She thought if she could get muTintht to work for her it would give her some credibility with her sister.
Once Silver got close to deKhnastre he was able to work on the imagery. Behind the scenes he got Starbuilder to tweak the design of the Delta-fin, then he got Svelte to tweak the design of the Sinstrap, both in ways that very subtly mirrored each other. He then worked with Tarbuck and Bailey, the comic-book and Testament people, to produce a character they called 'Delta-V', an angel who found herself stuck on the wrong side of the Murgatrojan Wyrmal and got caught up in lots of vaguely mineral and customs-orientated adventures. The angel's get up was a very Delta-fin-looking Sinstrap which propelled her through the air. deKhnastre didn't cotton onto any of this. She wasn't interested in the Order or graphic novels and she'd never even heard of the Sinstrap. This suited muTintht, all he had to do was get her to make the connection, then she would make all the running herself. If she believed in it enough the image would become an icon. He started by taking subtle detours in the lux, driving her through areas where there happened to be an Orthodox wedding that day, or a burial, whatever. Any function where a good proportion of the women would be in formal dress - some were bound to be in the Sinstrap. Then he would introduce his own people, wearing the Delta-V, as it was to become known, and make sure Mariella got a good look at them.
Eventually she took the bait:
'How do I get one of those frocks?' she asked muTintht, who had let slip that he was religious.
'You don't,' he replied, somewhat bluntly. 'They're reserved for Penitents.'
'There's no law against what a person can wear,' Mariella scoffed.
'I think you'll find there is,' said muTintht, 'and you may find yourself in a very dark place indeed.'
Then muTintht's eyes lit up with epiphany as he did a double-take, slapping himself in the forehead like he was stupid. 'I know where you could get one,' he said, 'for private use only, mind...'
'Where's the point in that?' snapped Mariella.
'Then I can't help you,' said Silver, cool as you like.
'Unless you take up The Call, it's Blasphemy.'
'But I have pure blood! I'm more Gnostic than you are.'
muTintht looked hurt: 'That you are,' he said, 'and a waste of good blood it is too.'
'And what exactly is that supposed to mean?' He'd got her dander up by now.
'A woman like you could be so...'
'Oh, I don't know. It's a missed opportunity that's all.'
'You think I could get somewhere in the Order?'
'A girl with your profile? Doors would fly open for you. Glass ceilings would shatter.'
'You could help with that? You have contacts?'
'I know people,' he said. 'Through Chapel; coffle mornings and such.'
Soon enough, Mariella deKhnastre had signed up for Penitence and with her working-class credentials and pure blood there was no looking back. By the time she had been offered her first movie, muTintht was able to ease himself out of her life and move onto his next project. From this point, deKhnastre became indistinguishable from Delta-V, embedding the Sinstrap into the public consciousness once and for all.