Authors: G. X. Knight
My mind doesn’t always do what I want it to. What I had just processed was the following: This dude was uber-buff. He had tattoos. He had that sexy beach-bum thing working for him, and he had just fought his way into our cabin so he could find Maeve. All of that translated, in my world, to one thing… ex-boyfriend. Sure it was a jump, but my clarity of thought left back when Maeve did.
I didn’t think. I did what I always do. I swung a Cyborg-powered punch as hard as I could at him.
RESPECT MY AUTHORITAH
The Islander was fast. He ducked under one swing and blocked the second without even flinching under the force of my Cyborg strength. I spun to get some distance so I could try again. I felt his hand strike, and then press hard against my chest. My entire body shook and threatened to pull itself apart in a million different directions. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t exhale. I couldn’t do anything but stand there and let him keep me right where I was.
“I don’t want trouble,” he said looking at me through a growing scowl of confusion.
Sway’s hands moved with the skill and precision one typically expects from an Elf. From somewhere on her belt she pulled a blade of black diamond marked with Elven script. The markings glowed into bright orange and the knife began to sizzle and smoke. “Well, you’ve got trouble unless you let him go, now, Ripper.”
,” the guy with the grumbly low voice protested.
“You used the wrong password, buddy.” Sway flicked her wrist so that the knife sang through one of the braids that hung down over his shoulder. Here’s another new memory for me, burnt hair smells nasty.
He took his hand off my chest, and I felt instantly fine. His confusion toward me was apparent, but between that and the disdain he and Sway shared toward each other, the room still felt supercharged and primed to explode. I tried some of the breathing Largo taught me so I could calm myself. I thought about the crumpled robot parts that had signified my failure to remain calm back at the training studio. I had failed all over again.
Everyone took a few steps back. Sway sheathed the knife, and our new guest’s tattoos fizzled from a bright shimmer back to how they were before he charged up his powers. I had read a little about the Veil Rippers between Sway’s provocative fashion shows. I wondered just how close I had come to being de-souled.
“Speak, starting with your name.” Sway ordered.
“Everyone calls me X… X Siin. And as you’ve noticed, I’m from Frostwick Island. I’m here to find Maeve Valera. I was hoping to contact the Celts. It’s literally a matter of life and death.”
“Disgusting soul stealers.” Sway mumbled. “You are the most self-important exaggerators in all of the Amalgam realms.”
X’s eyes narrowed, “Spiritual sellouts. Just because it has nothing to do with hocking our ancient beliefs to Slates for their war-dollars, doesn’t mean it’s not important.”
I separated the two, and somehow became the calm one in the room. It is a dark day indeed when I’m the prevailing cooler head. X explained about his dad, mom, and the plot to do something to the
. X had been aboard for almost three days before the launch, and despite his searching, he had so far found nothing out of the ordinary. He admitted being apprehensive about contacting Maeve and the Celts out of concern for what would happen to his dad. After he got word about the attack on Frostwick, he felt like he had no choice. He wasn’t sure how the two incidents were related, only that they were. I was clueless. X seemed seriously dejected after we explained that Maeve was not here, nor could we contact her.
He did perk a little after Sway explained that she was on the way to Frostwick to fix their magma-regulator-thing. I had no idea why Sway was so hostile toward the Veil Rippers, but I was thankful that prejudice didn’t register when it came to her intensity for saving their island home.
He apologized for bothering us. I apologized for taking a swing at him. Sway said nothing. She just glared at him. Then I had an idea. “Maybe I could help you take a look around the ship. It’s not like Sway needs me to tag along with her anyway.” I think it’s what an Infinite would do.
“Isn’t that the truth? You would just get in the way.” She was always so encouraging.
That’s when the actual boatman came to the door. Sway eyed X one last time before turning to me. She smiled with a burst of the occasional sincerity she tried to keep rationed, “Be careful.”
“You too,” I said as I hugged her. She still smelled like cinnamon. I was enjoying the scent as she tightened her arms around me.
“No kiss?” She asked with a wicked grin.
“Maybe when you get back,” I teased. Her brow perked with anticipation. I probably shouldn’t have flirted back.
After she left I tried to comfort X. “Sorry about your parents. The whole mass murdering father thing notwithstanding, I understand what it’s like. My dad and I didn’t really get along before he died, but I still would have done anything to protect him.”
X nodded. “Thanks. So tell me, who, or what for that matter, are you? You’ve got something weird going on under the hood. I can’t put my finger on what’s different about you.”
It was nice meeting someone who didn’t get all weak in the knees when I mentioned the Thantosa name. After a few very intense seconds of internal deliberation, I decided to show him my Cyborg pieces-parts. He looked me over, but he continued to stare curiously as if I hadn’t answered the question.
“There’s something else.” He said as his brown eyes peered from intense slits of a pondering face, “You look
“Also,” he continued, “I’ve never met anyone with such a pronounced Cast.”
“I just have one of those faces.” I said, “But what do you mean by Cast?”
X perched on the corner of a nearby end-table as he explained, “Every Ripper learns how to read a person’s Cast. It helps us determine the best course for Ripping. Think of it as a physical, multi-dimensional representation of a person’s essence. Most people will never develop a Cast that ever looks like anything more than simple shapes or canvases of color, and that’s if they’re lucky. Many tend to be colorless, shapeless blobs. The more truth a person is capable of embracing, the more likely their Cast tends to take on its own form. Yours is…
“So what is mine?” I asked.
X thought about it. “I’m really not supposed to tell you, but then I’m not one for following all the rules. It’s going to sound strange to someone who is uninitiated, but yours is the most intricate tiger I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to pull off an animal Cast, especially a powerful one. I felt just a fraction of your strength when we connected. I’m glad you didn’t press me because, honestly, I don’t have the skills to Rip your soul. I’m still learning, but I don’t know of any Ripper who has even faced such a beast. You’ve got some serious juice working in your favor.”
I was curious, was he playing me right now? “Could you see Sway’s Cast even though you never connected?”
X pushed out a low laugh. His guffaw was awkward sounding. I don’t think he laughed all that much. “Yeah… hers was pretty potent for a Fire Elf. It’s hard to describe. Her spirit resembles a burning cactus.”
“I officially believe in you,” I said, feeling sudden confidence in X’s ability to read Casts.
We shared a bonding chuckle and started to leave. I wanted him to take me on a tour of his previous steps to see if there was anything he had missed. I’m not sure what I knew about tracking down soul stealers, but I had the Cyborg eyes. Maybe I could find something.
I realized, as we hit the door, that I had left my disguise on the couch after I had taken it off to show X my freak show. I stopped to grab the clothes, but I felt the strong Islander’s hand grab me by the metal of my arm. “Men like my father hide who they really are. He’s done it my whole life, and he’s doing to it now. I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for discretion, but I can tell you that is not one of them. If you could see what’s on the inside of you as I have, you would never hide yourself again. I don’t know what it is about you, but up until now, I wasn’t sure just how willing I was to go up against my father. As I’ve said, the only way one creates a Cast like yours is to embrace truth, and right now, the truth is, I feel like I need to do whatever I can to stop him, and if that means helping you against my own family, then so be it. You have been given a great light. Do not hide it from the world. You cannot win the race if you’re too focused on hiding from the other runners.”
“Do you give all the girls this pep talk before a big date?” I quipped.
“Just the ones I like.” X fired back. “Now let’s go save these self-indulgent assholes, and their overrated pool toy, before I regret it.”
We barely made it to the second deck of our search, down in one of the engine bays, when an alarm sounded indicating trouble up on the bridge. I was thankful, because I had already gotten bored with the hunting. I thought this Infinite gig was going to be all hot chicks, fireworks, and punching stuff. Nobody said anything about tedium. I was definitely more suited to smashing and breaking things. I should leave the detailed things to Kata and Sway.
We made our way up through the ship as quickly, but inconspicuously as possible. I garnered a few whispers. To my surprise, there amidst the more hoity-toity of the Amalgam world, most didn’t even see me because they were too busy looking down their noses at X’s torn cargo shorts, and faded thrifty-brown “Fish Pals” sleeveless T. Sway definitely would be at home in a place like this. I didn’t deny myself the potential of one day being a part of their society. I could still be friends with whoever I wanted. Was there really a need to shun people for being shunning snobs? X, however, seemed to be on the opposite end of the spectrum, and he was bent on staying there. He glared at anyone who made eye contact, and because he was so intimidating, most were not up to the challenge he offered with his menacing “wild islander” stare. As with Sway, I was thankful he didn’t let his own personal feelings get in the way of what had to be done. It probably wouldn’t be a great time to mention they shared such a huge similarity. Actually,
seemed like the only appropriate time to mention that to two who so obviously hated each other.
Guest and workers alike were unaware that they were in peril. I debated over warning them. The pool bunnies looked comfortable by the indoor pool as they sought shelter from the inclemency outside. The maids toiled diligently in folding practices that would turn ordinary bathroom towels into elephants, dogs, and flowers. Chefs clamored over their buffets in the pursuit of culinary perfection. Should I warn them? Would they be able to get off the ship in time? There were entirely too many questions, and too much at stake to be left in the metal hands of a kid who was nothing more than some beef-slinging table-jockey not many moons passed. It wasn’t fair to me, and it certainly wasn’t fair to them. Of all the people that could have been there, at this time, standing in the gap for them… those poor souls got me. Maybe they were all evil, and I was Karma’s pimp-slap for their untold novels of cheating and indiscretion?
Just outside the bridge we were stopped by security. A guy with a mustache much too large for his face was giving orders to guards who ran off with their assigned mission, more out of fear from the “Siin” name he used to invoke their action, than the emergency that was taking place around them. “Mrs. Siin would not approve of this. Mrs. Siin would not like that,” was all that was being said by their commanding officer to nearly everyone that approached him with potential solutions.
“We are not going to sound anymore alarms. We are not going to let anyone know that there has been an incident,” Mr. Mustache yelled into a handset speaker, “Mrs. Siin will have all our heads dangling from the front of this ship if we do. We will handle it ourselves. I am not losing my job today over some family dysfunction.”
X and I shared a concerned look. Things were off to a bad start. We pushed our way through a couple of guards who were looking over some schematic readouts of the ship, and we stood, ignored, in front of Chewbacca Lip for what felt like an hour before he acknowledged us.