Fiction Friday: Xenosaga fic, Chapter 3, part 4

The My Little Po-Mo vol. 3 Kickstarter is hanging at $491! The person who bumps it over $500 gets special bonus acknowledgment on the blog and in the book!

Huh, he wonders. Why hasn’t today’s post shown up on Tumblr yet? Oh–because I utterly failed to actually queue anything.

Sorry all!


Finally, after entire tens of minutes of sweltering heat crawling across the bumpy desert roads, Seth reached the refugee camp. As he pulled up to the gate, he saw someone standing by it, silhouetted in the sun, a tall, slender woman in a long, open coat. He slowed as he approached the gate, and a young soldier waved him through.

Seth pulled up next to the woman, reached across the seat and opened the door facing her. “I’m here to deliver medical supplies?” he said.

Nadeshiko climbed into the truck’s cab and pointed down a dirt path that wound between concrete buildings and tents. “Right down there,” she said. “Wish you’d gotten here earlier.”

“Contract said today,” Seth answered, as he drove slowly down the narrow, twisty path.

“I know. It’s not your fault, I’ve just had a bad day. We could have used some of those nanomachines.”

“Something going around the camp?” he asked.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’re not at risk, unless you’ve got an immune disorder you haven’t mentioned.”

Seth shook his head. He looked at the rows and rows of tents extending out from the road in both directions. Here and there someone sat outside, watching impassively as he drove past, but most of the refugees and workers must have been inside. There were tents for thousands. “What are all these people refugees from, anyway?”

Nadeshiko’s big brown eyes widened. “You don’t know about the war?”

“What war?”

“What war. The Federation-Artaxerxes War!”

“Of course,” said Seth. “But that was almost five years ago. Shouldn’t they have found somewhere to go by now?”

Nadeshiko stared at Seth. “They’re refugees from the second Federation-Artaxerxes War, not the third.”

“Fifteen years? Why haven’t they gone anywhere?”

“They’re not allowed to,” Nadeshiko said quietly. “The government is afraid of the health risks, so they keep them separate. This is as much a prison as a refugee camp.”

Seth pulled up outside the low concrete storage shed. He walked around to the back of the truck and pulled out the dolly. He unfolded its handle and left it hovering next to the truck as he climbed up and lifted out the first canister.

“It’s not fair!” said Nadeshiko suddenly. “They’re human beings. They don’t deserve to be treated like this!”

“Most of the time,” Seth answered, loading the canister onto the dolly, “what you deserve and what happens don’t have much to do with each other.”

“That damn Federation ship that crashed leaked coolant into their water supply. They’ve all got immune damage. The Bethel government keeps them here because they’re an epidemic risk, and what happens? They get epidemics!”

“Where’s this go?” asked Seth.

“Over there, in the back corner,” she said, pointing. “There were eleven thousand of them when they first came here. Now there’s only three hundred. They could resettle each family in a different town, no serious epidemic risk at all. But nobody cares enough to spend the money.”

Seth followed her directions, keeping quiet while she ranted.

“And the Federation? It’s their fault everyone’s sick, but do they come in and help? No!”

“Didn’t they send these supplies?” Sometimes Seth hated the pedantic streak that made him say things like that, but he supposed her rant would continue until she was done whether he said something or not.

“Oh, sure,” said Nadeshiko. “Stopgap measures. Reparative nanomachines and generalized drugs for the diseases they catch are cheaper than the scanners and self-replicating nanomachines we’d need to tailor a permanent cure to each person. Nobody wants that money coming out of their budget this year; they’d rather spend three times that amount over fifteen years.” She was working up a good, solid mad, like she hadn’t in years. Screw hormonal control and neurotransmitter manipulation. She wanted to scream, so she was going to scream.

“So we have to sit here while people die all around us, helpless to do anything about it, waiting for your tiny little Federation handouts so that we can keep one or two of them alive a few more days, and nobody else cares!”

She went on ranting while Seth unloaded the supplies. She railed at the Bethel government for ignoring its weakest citizens, at the Ormus and Fleet churches for helping with food but no money or medical equipment, at the Federation for ignoring its responsibility, and at the universe for not caring.

Finally, Seth was done. Wordlessly, he handed over the work order for her to sign. Once she was done, he got back into the truck and started it up.

The passenger-side door opened, and Nadeshiko got in.

“What the hell are you doing?” demanded Seth.

“Coming with you. You’re headed back to town, right?”

“Uh-uh,” said Seth. “I’m no taxi. Find your own ride.”

“My boss said to ride back with you,” said Nadeshiko. “So, I’m riding back with you.”

“I never agreed to this!”

“Look, it’s not like going back is going to be any more difficult with me along. It doesn’t cost you anything.”

“It costs me my precious alone time.”

Nadeshiko sighed. “Look, I know I’ve been talking at you for the last twenty minutes. I’m sorry. I had a really bad day, like I said, and you were handy. But hitching across the desert is really dangerous. I could really use the help.”

Seth rolled his eyes. “Fine, but you’re paying half the truck rental.”

“Thank you,” said Nadeshiko.

Seth drove the truck back to the gate, where the same guard searched carefully to make sure no refugees were hiding in the truck. Soon, they were back out on the road.

***

Aser laughed and laughed as he dodged the attacks of the military AMWS surrounding him. “Sting, sting, my little bees!” he crowed. “You cannot touch me. All you have one is your death.” The U.R. Hod flickered back and forth rapidly in the air above the refugee camp, until it appeared there were dozens of insectile green AMWS surrounding the four military mecha, instead of the other way around.

Growing bored with his playthings, Aser returned to strafing the ground, smashing tents and buildings, picking up the sick and injured and tossing them hundreds of feet into the air like so much screaming, squirming confetti.

Below, Dr. Viri lay pinned beneath the wreckage of the collapsed main infirmary. He screamed at the sky, at the world gone mad. “Damn you, why? Who are you? What do you want?” he shrieked.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Aser taunted through the Hod’s external speaker. “You remember me, don’t you?” His jovial tone shifted, thinned to reveal the acid underneath. “I remember you. Now come out! Or do these people mean so little to you?” He pounced suddenly on one of the military mecha from behind and tore its limbs off, then smashed the torso into the ground. He teleported upward as its explosion tore through the remains of the camp. “Aw. It seems you really aren’t here. Or I killed you too quickly. Either way, it looks like time to wrap up my game.” He giggled as he tore through another AMWS as if it was made of foil.

Aser! What are you doing?

“Playing,” he told Dasra. “What do you want?”

You’re killing innocents! Why?

Aser shrugged. “They fly higher than hardened criminals when you toss them?” He punctuated his claim by snatching up a handful of refugees and throwing them into the path of a pursuing AMWS.

Stop this at once!

“That’s not a very good joke. You need to work on your delivery.”

Aser. You must return immediately. Dasra fed him a location a couple of lightyears away in the direction of Artaxerxes.

“Oh, all right,” Aser sighed.

A fraction of a second later, the U.R. Hod was in space, six light-hours from Bethel’s sun. Aser paused to get his bearings, fixing the location he needed firmly in his mind. A moment later, he was at the rendezvous point.

It was only a matter of seconds before the Cygnus sailed into view. It was a majestic ship, long and sleek and shining silver. The great tree-and-cross of Ormus ran half its length, picked out in shining green and gold; from the base of the cross at the rear of the ship, two wing-like fins rose, one on either side. It was not the Dammerung by any means, but nonetheless served as home for over a hundred people and the heart of the Orthodox Ormus Church of the Messiah, one of the two great faiths of modern mankind.

Aser hated going home. His family, such as they were, didn’t like it much better, especially his idiot brother. But if he didn’t come, Dasra would nag and nag until he did.

He flicked himself into AMWS Bay Three, where the U.R.s were kept. He scanned the room quickly, trying to see who was already here. Dasra and Nasatya, of course; they rarely left. Calvin, unfortunately, but likewise unsurprisingly; ever since he took over command of the Knights, he’d spent most of his time behind the scenes. And–

Searing pain and pleasure tore through him, hateful love and ecstatic agony. Every nerve in his body shrieked and sang as he jerked and thrashed, groaning wordlessly.

As quickly as it began, it stopped. “Hey, handsome,” said Mia over U.R. Hod‘s radio.

“Mia,” Aser gasped. “Remind me why I haven’t killed you yet?”

“Aw, you know you love me, baby.”

Enough, you two. Calvin and the Primus will be here soon. They want the three of us to remain in our U.R. units, as they have tasks for us immediately following the meeting.

The door to the ship opened, and a small, skinny, brown-skinned teenaged girl with her hair dyed in elaborate, multicolored streaks and swirls entered. Like the other monks and nuns of the Knights of the Swan, she wore a form-fitting uniform decorated with the winged Tree of Life symbol topped by a crossed pair of swords. As one of the elite, she had no rank insignia, and the uniform was in her personal colors instead of the usual black with green and gold trim. In Nasatya’s case, that meant a vivid, eye-searing hot pink.

“Hi, everybody!” she effused. “What’s up?”

“I’d like to know that myself,” said Aser.

“I know why I’m here,” Mia said smugly. “Can’t speak for the rest of you.”

“Eww,” said Nasatya.

The doors opened again, and Calvin entered. Immediately behind him came a tall, broad man. His face was heavily lined and his beard and hair were white, but his back was straight and his eyes were sharp. He moved slowly but confidently, with the air of a man who had no need of hurry, and wished to give any potential obstacles time to flee before he arrived.

He wore ornate white robes with green and gold trim and a white skullcap. His short cloak was decorated with golden discs bearing the Ormus cross, connected by golden links in the shape of three intertwining wings. Tradition held that the design of the Primus’ vestments dated back to the days of Lost Jerusalem, though no records survived of humanity’s birthplace. The records were unnecessary; the Primus believed they were that ancient, and wore them with the conviction that they symbolized his succession in an unbroken chain of leaders back to the earliest dawn era, when God walked among men and gave them His treasures.

“Your Holiness,” said Calvin, bowing, “the Knights you requested are here.”

“Indeed, hegumen,” said the Primus. “You may instruct them.”

Calvin nodded. “His Holiness has revealed to me my error in sending you unprepared, Aser. He has learned of your actions on Bethel through Dasra, but you are not to be punished. It is my own fault in sending you without making absolutely clear that you understood: Seth Mikra is to be tested, not killed.”

“Not killed yet,” said Aser.

“Not killed at all,” said the Primus. “Not until and unless I and I alone give the order. We need him. He is the only candidate we have ever found.”

“Finding another’ll be hard,” said Nasatya. “There’ll only be, like, one in a hojillion.”

The Primus and Calvin turned to stare at her.

“What? Each of us is, whatev, one of the n-state roots of a twelve-dimensional beta-type personality manifold projected onto a nine-dimensional space. There’s, dunno, a bazillion years of psychometrics that says the combination for the last one is gonna be almost impossible to find.”

They continued to stare.

You’ve worked out a formula for predicting the Chosen?

“Uh, yeah, sis. Only, like, four years ago. What, I thought it was totally obvious! You mean you guys didn’t know about it?”

After another long pause, the Primus cleared his throat. “We shall discuss this… manifold of yours later, Nasatya. Aser, you are to test Mikra. Go.”

“I shall be most testy, Your Emptiness.” Aser vanished.

The Primus glanced around the room. “Nasatya, Dasra, Mia. You know what to do.”

Yes, Your Holiness, said Dasra.

The Primus exited the room and Calvin let out a long breath. He sank to his knees and bowed his head. “Let us pray. Mia, if you would assist me.”

“Gladly, sweetie,” she answered.

“Eww, again,” said Nasatya. She clambered up the leg of her U.R. unit and into the cockpit. Sealing it around her, she cranked up the music and blanked the external views. She closed her eyes and cast forward, trying to see where Aser was going and what he was going to do.

“I am sorry, Lord,” whispered Calvin as searing pain washed through him. “I wished in my heart for this unbeliever to die. Better that then he sully the Lost Road with legs that have never knelt to You. I know now I was wrong, because the Primus has said I was wrong.” He paused a moment, struggling to keep his breathing under control, not let the agony in his filthy, heavy, weak body touch the light of his soul. “But, Lord, I am finding it hard to believe. Please, help me trust in the one You have chosen as Primus in Your perfect wisdom.”

Mia hardly noticed Calvin as she pushed the pain into him. Her eyes were wide and unfocused, her face flushed, and she was panting hard as she exerted her power, streaming energy from the mysterious power source at the heart of her U.R. unit through her own body and into Calvin’s. She was quite sure that Calvin knew what using her power did to her. She liked to think it made him feel dirtier. That was what he wanted, after all, to feel like a sinner and be punished for it, so that he could be free to do what was necessary.

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