Jump to content

Recommended Posts

May 2021 

After All Bad Bad Nevertheless

 

The good news was that Sea Devil and Singularity had beaten the monster. Whether it was the injury Aquaria had done to it, or the terror Jessie had put in its eyes, Memento Mori had disappeared before it could attack the Project Freedom crews that had arrived on the scene. Singularity had even been talked back to Jessie before she could hurt anyone, thanks to the need to get Aquaria to a hospital and the nearby presence of people she knew well. The Kingston cleanup process was...going to be delayed for some time. Jessie's fast healing meant that she didn't have so much as a bruise by the next morning. 

 

There was just one piece of bad news. Aquaria still hadn't woken up. Out of her armor she looked decidedly bedraggled, a downcast look on her broad face, her eyes responding to light and her body to stimuli, but her mind seemingly elsewhere. Eve had found that Aquaria was indeed still in her head, but far away as if in deep sleep, and magical probes by Tarva and others hadn't gotten very much further. They'd taken her home to the castle where she could rest, in the deep wading brackish water pool where she was the most comfortable, but her quietude was alarming.

 

No one else who had been hurt by the creature had stayed down like this. Even going back to the worst injury anyone had heard of Aquaria getting, the in all honesty probably too-violent beating from Nereid that had led to her initial arrest, there was no reason for her to still be unconscious, especially with seemingly no bruises herself, the next day. People had been in and out of the Castle all day, specialists from the League and elsewhere, but nobody had figured anything out yet. 

 

Link to post

Having so many people in and out of their apartment was upsetting, especially when so many of them were strangers, but there was no way to avoid it and still help Aquaria. Jessie had wedged herself in the most protected corner of Aquaria's room the moment they arrived home and had not moved since except to occasionally check for threats. The monster, Memento Mori, she'd heard someone call it, was a shapeshifter and a teleporter. It could come into the building if it wanted. It could be anybody it wanted to be. That wasn't its style, she reminded herself. It hadn't attacked anyone twice so far, and everyone it had attacked had approached it first. They'd managed to scare it, and it wouldn't like that. It wouldn't come back for Aquaria. It wouldn't. She kept watch anyway.

Link to post

Eventually it was just the two of them, Aquaria seemingly asleep in her pool and Jessie in her safe spot in a particularly Euclidian corner of Aquaria's room. As the darkness crept over the face of the city outside, or at least as dark as a city like Freedom got, another woman might have slept. 

 

It was nearly morning when a slowly rising sound evolved into the sound of a gentle chime, a tone too inoffensive to startle even Singularity's impressive reflexes. It was a sound Jessie had heard before, one that quickly evolved into a familiar voice. Jessie. May I come in? Technically Bluebird could project herself wherever she liked in the castle and from most electronic devices inside the upper stories of the DuTemps Building proper, but the Furion AI knew that there were limits on what human beings generally allowed their cybernetic homes to do. 

Link to post

Jessie was not sleeping. She had not slept through the night before as her bruises healed, nor had she slept during the day while her home was invaded again and again by strangers. She would not sleep tonight either, but it was okay. She could go for awhile without sleeping before she started to feel too bad and weird. Aquaria would wake up before that happened, and then things would be okay again. She rested her hand on the shield sitting next to her when the chiming started, but relaxed fractionally when she recognized Bluebird. "You can come in," she told the AI, her voice a little raspy from not using it all day. 

Link to post

Bluebird's projection down here wasn't quite as 'real' as it was up in the castle; the woman that shimmered into being at the door to Aquaria's room was translucent and her voice sounded like someone talking on a cellphone. "Hello, Jessie," said the projected intelligence, dressed in a blue business suit that actually resembled outfits Jessie had seen Eve wearing from time to time. "I have been interfacing with the Freedom League's machine intelligences. They have uncovered what has lain Aquaria low and we have theorized a possible balm for the injuries given her by the psionic beast." She knelt down by the sleeping Deep One and said, "We may be able to help her.

Link to post

Jessie restrained herself from interposing between the AI and her unconscious friend. Bluebird didn't even have a body in this form, she was just a picture made of light and a voice coming from directional speakers. Besides, Bluebird was Eve's, and she could probably be trusted. Unless she was the monster... no, that wouldn't make sense either. She forced herself to concentrate on what the AI was saying. "You can fix her?" she asked cautiously. Furions talked so stupidly, it was sometimes hard to figure out what they were saying at all. "What do you need to do to her?"

Link to post

Bluebird was silent for a moment, studying Jessie, and seemed to be adjusting her words to match her audience. "As you know, Deep One brains are very different from the brains of most of the beings of your world. The parts that control a hunter's senses are much bigger, and the parts that control consciousness are much more dispersed throughout the brain. This allows Deep Ones to...see and hear things from other dimensions without having any single...it keeps them from going insane when they encounter things that should not be. Magic is very difficult for me to explain," she admitted. As she spoke, a clear representation of Aquaria's brain, hovering blue, had appeared between her hands. 

 

"The current theory is that Aquaria's consciousness was...dispersed by encountering the Momento Mori creature. So she is still there," she said, pointing to Aquaria, "but her consciousness must be awakened piece by piece rather than individually." This was not something Deep Ones would have understood about themselves, Jessie knew, because from Aquaria's stories an unconscious Deep One would probably be killed and eaten by its peers to make sure its soul would continue to serve Dagon and Hydra. "The Freedom League has plans to bring a mind reader like Daphne to help her. But that will take a long time, and is potentially very dangerous, because of what Deep One brains are like. I believe, however, that we can help Aquaria wake up with a Furion mental probe. No telepathy," she added. "Only technology. That is where you come in."  

Link to post

"I'm not very good with technology," Jessie began, already shaking her head. "Neither is Aquaria, really. We can barely work the TV most of the time." Jessie was already a little uncomfortable with Furions, mostly because of the way they talked about Erin, but she knew they had super-advanced technology and could do all kinds of things only superscience or magic could do on Earth. "Maybe we should take her to a hospital," she offered reluctantly. "If you need to wake her up with technology, you should probably get some experts to do it."

Link to post

"You are most unlikely to find a greater expert with Furion technology than myself and Redbird," said Bluebird with the ghost of a smile on her projected face. "The hospitals on Earth-Prime can barely heal the bodies of their own kind, much less minds, particularly those of species alien to them like Aquaria's. Here, let me show you what we would do."

 

She summoned an illusory headband and made as if to place it on Aquaria in the water, then summoned another one suited for Jessie's head, careful to keep that one on her lap. "What we would do is a simple procedure where we stimulate your brain and Aquaria's brain, so that you can enter her consciousness and awaken the fragments. I do not think there are very many," she added, "only three, perhaps four. Normally one of her blood would be used for the mind-meeting, but of course we have no Deep Ones to hand but Aquaria.

 

She seemed to hesitate a moment, withdrawing both illusions back to her lap, before she said, "So it falls to one that her mind knows and trusts, perhaps you or Harriet Wainwright, but she is a woman of advancing years. Aquaria needs someone strong." 

Link to post

It was impossible for Jessie to suppress her first reaction to the idea; her body recoiled instinctively almost hard enough to tip over her chair. She'd had to share consciousness with others before, and had other people inside her head to rebuild it. To say it was unpleasant would be like saying Aquaria's bedroom was a touch humid. Even with the memories deliberately blunted and some gone entirely, even with the long sessions with Eve and Alex long behind her, the ghostly feeling of others walking through her mind was enough to have nausea rising in her chest. She shook her head, drawing her arms up close so that the shield covered most of her torso. "There must be another way," she insisted. "Aquaria wouldn't want people getting inside her mind. That's private." 

Link to post

"Someone will have to go in and draw her out either way," said Bluebird softly. "I know that this is frightening for you, but I promise that it will not be like telepathy for you, and you will not be alone while you do this. But if we let the telepaths do it, it will be a stranger who she does not know at all, or someone like Daphne who is her friend but who does not know her inner being. It will take time and they may see things that she does not wish them to see." The projected machine intelligence was silent for a little while, obviously considering her words, before she said simply, "There is no one she trusts more than you." 

Link to post

It was clear what Bluebird wanted from her, and it was clear what the heroic course of action would be. It was clear what Aquaria would do if the situations were reversed, though the idea of having anyone else in her mind, even a friend, made Jessie's skin crawl. It was clear what Erin, always better and braver and stronger, would do. Jessie slid out of her chair to curl up in the corner, drawing up her knees and resting her forehead on them. Maybe the monster hadn't been able to hurt her, but that was only because it was right. Useless copy with nothing inside but blank white walls... She tried her best to ignore the fact that some of those walls had started bulging dangerously since the monster's intrusion, with flashes popping up behind her eyes when she stopped paying close attention to the real world. That was a problem to kick as far down the road as possible and hope that it would go away. The present had more than enough problems of its own. 

 

She didn't really know how long she stayed like that, trying to goad herself into action. It was long enough that Bluebird coughed delicately at least twice. Finally, finally, she got enough control of her own voice to ask "What do I have to do?" 

Link to post

"If you come upstairs with me, I can give you the technology for the mental probe. There is a headband for you, and one for Aquaria. Once you have connected them both, I will activate them, and then join you in entering a state of mental bonding as your brainwaves come to match up. It will be as if you were having the same dreams, instead of the same thoughts," she added reassuringly. "I will be part of the experience, so that you will never be alone with Aquaria's mind. Working together, I will guide you to the key points in Aquaria's consciousness where she is in hiding. Once all the parts of her consciousness are ready to be awake, she will awaken naturally almost immediately. Her emotions may be in some turmoil, but she will be well.

Link to post

Jessie wished for just a minute that she could be Singularity for a little while. Singularity was incapable of fear or shame; she would have no trouble putting the technology on and allowing strangers into her thoughts. But Singularity was also incapable of empathy or compassion, and while she would kill or die to protect Aquaria without a moment's pause, she would not be able to help fix Aquaria now. Besides, if Jessie had ever been able to slip into and out of the Singularity mindset at will, her life would be a lot less complicated.

 

Instead she rose gracelessly to her feet and began moving towards the elevator, each step nearly a stumble as she pushed her own unwilling feet to move. Bad, this was going to be so bad, painful and scary, violation, invasion, pathos, it hurts... By the time she made her way into the hallway and onto the elevator, she tasted copper in her mouth and lifted a hand to wipe blood off the lip she'd bitten. 

Link to post

Upstairs, Bluebird was waiting for her by the elevator, her projection solid, clear, real. She looked at Jessie and didn't speak, instead walking with her to the control room where the two headbands were waiting for her. They looked shining and new, obviously made by one of the 3-D printers in the castle, curling metal like the barrettes she remembered? or was that Erin? a lifetime ago. She followed her in the elevator too, surely an artifice for an artificial projection with no real body save the computer systems of the Castle itself. 

 

Back in their apartment, Bluebird showed Jessie how to put on Aquaria's headband, the metal stretching slightly as it wrapped around the sides of Aquaria's head just behind her earholes. (Aquaria didn't call them that, but that is certainly the function they served on the side of her head.) "I will meet you inside the projection," said Bluebird. "You are - you are being very brave." And then she vanished, leaving Jessie alone with the headband. 

 

 

At first, Jessie thought nothing had changed. She was still in the apartment, still next to Aquaria's unconscious form, until she saw she had indeed been joined by Bluebird and by a strange projection - the odd, trifold, vaguely floral shape that she knew Aquaria called The Golden Sign. It seemed to hover in front of her, its ends glowing with a particular soft radiance. "This is good," said Bluebird softly, "it means she has accepted the connection. There is..." She concentrated on the sign and said, "I see the Day, the Evening, and the Night. These are the names she has given the places, they mean something. Where would you go?

Link to post

Jessie was just as glad that Bluebird had called her brave and disappeared before witnessing the way her hands shook so badly she could barely get the headband on. The blank white walls were shaking nearly as hard, and something behind them was laughing at her fear. It was just as well she kept her hair short, made it easier to get the headband on, and suddenly she was somewhere else. It looked like her apartment, but she herself was not the same. Bluebird seemed taller, but she knew it was because she herself was shorter, slighter, younger. Her own mental projection never seemed to change. "The night," she whispered. Diving straight into the dark seemed the only way to go. 

Link to post

There was a faint feeling of discontinuity, and then she was elsewhere. 

 

It was night, and it was raining; a thick, warm downpour that smelled faintly brackish, reminding her of tropical storms - when had she ever been in a tropical storm? She and Bluebird were standing together on a a rocky shoal at the edge of a shallow sea, low hills rising behind her towards strange jagged mountains. There was a crowd between her and the hills, distant and singing, with small fires burning and bodies writhing in what seemed to be an exotic dance. The water was lapping at her feet, warm and cold as She looked further up and saw a storm-black sky, lit suddenly by a flash of lightning and clap of thunder. 

 

In the single flash of light, she saw what had seemed to be the hills. They were not hills at all.

 

This was Freedom City, its streets flooded, its buildings smashed and piled in heaps. She had just had a glimpse in the darkness of the people in the crowd, some of them looking like Deep Ones, some of them not, prostrating themselves before something that sat on a throne made from those shattered buildings, a vast trident in its hand. A vast being like a gigantic, mutated Deep One, between humanoid and octopoid, with wings spread behind it. She knew who, what This was; Aquaria had shown her images. Dagon, The King, the terrible wrath of Deep Ones denied their glory that would come when the stars were right. As the darkness closed against over the distant worshippers and their god, she seemed to see Dagon reach down and scoop a few of the crowd up with its hand, the crowd's ululating rising in a frenzied joy as the creature raised its hand to its mouth-

 

"We need to find Aquaria here," said Bluebird, her own eyes wide at the terrible scene. "We are close to the Castle," Bluebird said, "I can sense it over there," she added, pointing away from the frenzied bacchanalia near what might have once been Freedom Hall. 

 

 

 

 

Link to post

The air stank of death, a smell Jessie would never forget in a million mental reconditionings. It was thick enough to gag her for a moment, and when she'd recovered, her image had changed again. She was still very young, fourteen or fifteen, but now her clothes were worn and bloodstained, her face dirty. Her hair was long and reddish brown instead of blonde, caught back in a tangled excuse for a ponytail. In her hand, she carried a crowbar with a crudely-sharpened edge. Her eyes were huge and nearly all pupil as she looked at Bluebird as though trying to assess whether the AI was something she needed to fight. After a long moment she blinked and nodded, moving away from the crowd in ground-eating leaps. 

Link to post

Bluebird guided Jessie, very carefully, to a place that was indeed familiar. It was the Castle, half-flooded and smashed, sitting in what had once been the street as if a large child had picked it from its skyscraper home and dropped it from that height. There were creatures scuttling about here and there that it was unwise to look at, but Bluebird was a shining guide, showing Jessie the way up through broken places in the castle walls, through flooded corridors that showed recently cleared carnage, places it was better not to look too closely at or think about too long at all - until she heard it. 

 

The sound of a deep, bass sobbing, the gulping sobs of utter Deep One despair. It was easy to follow the sounds to one of the rooms Eve used for commanding the castle, easy to go through the door Bluebird opened - 

 

There had been a fight here. There were the first corpses she had seen, corpses of Deep Ones smashed and crushed, but in the center of the room lay a very familiar dead body on the table. Her own, not as a child, but as a grown woman who had died in defense of her world, her broken, bloodied shield still strapped to support a broken forearm. Crouched at her head was Aquaria, her body scratched and bruised, her bloody trident buried in the ground at her feet. Of Jessie's own corpse, it was hard to tell what had killed her, save a very great force applied repeatedly over all of her body. 

 

"My fault, my fault, my fault..." Aquaria was repeating over and over again, in between nearly infrasonic bellows and barks of grief. When she heard people enter the room, she raised her head and said something that seemed to be addressed to herself as much as the newly-arrived duo. "This is what will happen when the stars are right. All I love will be lost for of all that I am! Oh...you're so small...I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Her voice was quiet now, actually one of the quietest she could remember hearing. "All is lost."  

Link to post

Jessie stopped short for a minute, staring at her own corpse and suddenly feeling completely disembodied. Her hands actually started to disappear for a moment, as her overwhelmed mind began to question whether she was real at all, but she forced herself to concentrate through it. She flipped the crowbar around so she held it by the blade. The pain was bracing, and allowed her to jab the blunt end into Aquaria's chest hard enough to sting but not bruise. "Stop it!" she insisted. "You need to wake up now! Bluebird said the only way for you to wake up was for me to come find you, and I hate everything about this but you're my best friend so here I am and you need to wake up!" She jabbed the Deep One a couple more times, just for emphasis. 

Link to post

Aquaria jumped at the prodding, the scene around them actually sputtering for a moment. "Jessie! Jessie, you are alive-yes! I will take you somewhere better! This is a dark place, and I will show you the Day!" Then there was a moment of discontinuity all around them, and.

 


Jessie was somewhere else. She was sitting on a city street, buildings rising up high overhead. There was no smell of death here, no ocean, no chaos. Everything was peaceful, rectangular towers rising high, gleaming with a miraculous gold. The people on the streets looked strong and healthy, some of them in golden armor that matched the architecture, and others dressed like civilians. The air was warm and dry on her skin, as if this city stood at the edge of some great desert, but not unpleasantly so by any means. Bluebird was nearby, smiling. "It is working! Aquaria's brain functions are beginning to return to normal. You are saving her, Jessie." Jessie appeared to be sitting in front of an outdoor fruit and vegetable seller, boxes swollen with apples, bananas, and various green things. 

Link to post

Jessie took a breath, cautiously at first, then another, deeper one. The air smelled of alive people, warm ripe fruit, hot sand. None of those things were smells that told her brain to fight or run. She lowered her arm, not really noticing as the crowbar melted away. "It's beautiful," she murmured, confused. "But it's weird. I don't even know if it's supposed to be Earth. I wonder if this is someplace she got to visit when we were with the Spectrum Knights." Her heart was still beating faster than normal but it no longer felt like it would pound out of her chest, and the warm wind was drying the sweat on her skin. "Do we have to find Aquaria again here?" she asked Bluebird. "She wouldn't like it here, she'd have to be indoors, or in her armor." 

Link to post

Bluebird looked around, frowning for a moment before she snapped her fingers. "The metal of the undersea kingdom! Yes, that is orichalcum from Atlantis," she said, indicating the architectural gold around them. She frowned. "The climate would hardly be pleasant for Atlanteans either, however."  Together they walked cautiously down the city streets, straining their senses for any sign of Aquaria. What they saw looked decidedly odd. It was indeed a very pleasant city, the people smiling and friendly, everyone looking well-dressed and content. The buildings were very tall, perfect three-dimensional rectangles that rose up towards the sky without a break, the windows all identical perfect squares.

 

And it wasn't just the buildings that were strange. On closer inspection, Jessie realized she couldn't see or hear any of the animals that lived among human beings in a large urban center. No dogs, no cats, no rats, no birds; just people. And peering into several glass-fronted windows, all the meals people were eating, carrying around with them, snacking on in parks, were rich, succulent-looking fruits and vegetables. Even the decorative grass growing along the sidewalk and around the shade trees was free of any insect life. The city was quiet, too, the people seeming to talk to each other in soft voices or whispers, many people on their phones; as if the whole place was holding its breath. 

 

Finally, after some twists and turns down unfamiliar streets, she and Bluebird reached the Castle. It was free of its towering heights here too, instead built at ground level like Freedom Hall. It was that same shining gold orichalcum, bearing the words MUSEUM over the front door. The only sign of what lay within was engraved on the door; the same Golden Sign that had guided them inside Aquaria's brain in the first place. 

 

Link to post

The peace and quiet was pleasant, especially after the chaos of the last place they'd been. As they walked, Jessie lost a little of the hunted adolescent look, though her adult self was blurry and only about two-thirds formed, like looking at a person through frosted glass. Her hair was back to normal at least, and she was wearing clean and blood-free copies of her favorite charity 5k t-shirt and faded blue jeans. "I wonder if this is a place Aquaria made for me," she mused aloud as they walked. "She knows I don't like meat the way she does, or loud voices, or things that surprise me. And it's so warm and dry..." Really, if she tried very hard not to think about it, it was like not being stuck in someone else's head at all. Sort of.

 

She looked closely at the facade of the museum for a few moments, then seemed to realize she wasn't going to learn much just standing outside. "Guess it's time to go learn stuff," she mused, then led the way into the building. 

Link to post

Inside the castle, the museum was seemingly a museum of Deep Ones. Their art, their artifacts, even a few lifelike representations, adorned the walls and ceiling. The effect was a bit like visiting a folk art or cultural museum devoted to African or Native American culture or art. The air was cooler here, and moister, but not enough that Jessie was uncomfortable. On closer inspection there appeared to be no Deep Ones here at all, and all of the language on the walls was in the past tense. This was a monument to a people who were gone. 

 

She wasn't alone in here, there were tourists of all kinds, the mood inside a wistful memory of what had been lost. When she approached a snack bar with the bizarrely cheerful label of Hydra's Sushi, a seeming tourist stepped up and blocked her way, and for a moment, Jessie didn't recognize the woman before her. With blue-green hair, a muscular, statuesque build displayed by an outfit that combined orichalcum armor with seaweed-colored skirt, she was clearly Atlantean, but what - 

 

"Aquaria," said Bluebird, and Jessie remembered Aquaria's tale of the many Aquarias that had arrived that day of the 'big multiversal mashup' earlier the previous year, and the rather startled Atlantean magus who had learned that she was a Deep One in seemingly every other corner of the multiverse. 

 

"Hello, Jessie," said Aquaria in the most human voice Jessie had heard from her friend, a sad but hopeful look on her face. "Are you well? Did the monster hurt you?" She reached out a five-fingered hand to touch Jessie on the arm. 

Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...