Authors: G. X. Knight
“I am very busy,” he said. “Now is not a good time.”
“Yeah I can see how a Veil Ripper taking your ship out from under your overly-shrubbed nose might cut into your afternoon shuffleboard plans.” I really had to learn some tact when I got irritated. I didn’t like being ignored.
Well, we wanted his undivided attention, and we got it. He sat down, folded his hands, and stared up at us with steel brown eyes painted with un-amusement. At this point the dozen guys had stopped to stare as well, each wearing expressions of total shock and expectation.
“And just who are you, and what do you want?” He asked.
I wasn’t really sure how to answer that question. My mind fumbled for the right words. I paused. Finally, X elbowed me. The throbbing in my side made me speak. “I’m Scion Thantosa. I’m an Infinite, and I’m here to help save the ship.”
Apparently I needed to work on my delivery, because the room exploded into sounds of riotous laughter. The guy to my left actually fell to his knees, and in the corner one of the female guards was wiping tears out of her eyes. I couldn’t really see if Bandito thought it was funny. I couldn’t see his mouth. It just kind of hid there behind curtains of black lip hair.
He quieted his people with a raised hand and stood to meet my gaze as the sounds of thunder rumbled hard and echoed loud amidst the sudden and awkward quiet, “As a man of such myth, then may I assume that this Veil Ripper you are with is actually Olympus’s own god of lightning?” He mocked us with grand sweeping gestures as he acknowledged X’s tattoos. “What shall I call you, my lord?”
“The X.” He said flatly, plainly, and with a no-nonsense tone that even made me tremble.
Everyone gasped again, and Mustachio actually paled. Apparently the Siin name was not to be trifled with. “Mr. Siin, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were on board. Of course we are doing everything in our power to see that we maintain the integrity of your mother’s investments and good name while we handle this as quickly and quietly as possible… As she would want.”
X smiled, and then there was a long breath-holding pause as everyone waited to hear what he would say. The X seemed like a no-nonsense guy, and was he ever. He cut right to the chase, “You’re fired.” He said again in that low, even tone of his. “Get out, or I’ll have you thrown out.”
He had more than just Ripper power. He had Siin power.
The Lip left the room with surprisingly no protest, just glaring hatred. X continued, “The Infinite is in command now. You take orders from him, or you can join your old boss. Does anyone have a problem with that?”
Absolute silence roared.
X turned to me, “What’s the plan?”
Everyone stared at me as if expecting some kind of strategic no-lose gambit to float from my gaping mouth. I had nothing. It was official. We didn’t stand a chance.
Back in the glory days of Steerhouse, it was okay to admit that you didn’t know the answer to a question, so long as you could find out. Go with what you know. So, out of desperation, I gave everyone the “wait one second finger,” turned my back to them, and pulled my phone from my pocket. When in doubt, ask Largo.
What about Sway?
No bars. No answer.
“So much for the ingenuity of Amalgam portable communications,” I mumbled to myself.
I turned so slowly back around you could hear the metal in my body squeak and grind. As if I were a caged thing in a zoo, everyone gawked with faces that ranged from disappointed curiosity to frustrated anger.
Go with what you know.
I heard it repeat in my mind until I began to whisper it out loud.
Movies... I knew movies. I tried to remember every cop, detective, and awesome leader I had watched portrayed. I drew in a deep breath of preparation, and then I exhaled with narrow eyes, a raised chin, and faked as much of an unwavering command voice as I could.
“How many of them are there?” I boomed.
“Just the one, Sir.” Somebody answered.
Sir? I liked that.
“Casualties?” I asked next.
“The captain, XO, two security personnel, and four other support bridge crew.” Someone reported back with military-like efficiency. This official-sounding voice thing was working. I thought about ordering the little guy with no shoes and webbed feet to go get me a coffee, but probably best not to push it.
“No one reported the sound of gunfire?” I asked.
“The intruder didn’t use a weapon, Sir.” Yes, there’s that word again…
. “The footage shows everyone on the bridge, except for Mrs. Siin, succumbing at once. He’s barely in view of the camera, so we don’t know what he’s using, but we’ve swept the ship, and we are positive he’s alone. Also, essential systems have been locked down, and everything is being controlled from the bridge only. We can’t even get into the rooms that would allow us to physically disable those primary systems should we need to stop the ship. He knows this ship better than most of the new crew.”
I asked X, “Could he have Ripped an entire room at once?”
“Impossible.” X said, “You have to make physical contact with your target, and then you can only do one at a time. Ripping is not easily done. It requires too much focus to do multiple simultaneous Rippings.”
We all watched the footage. Just as they said, everyone was about their duties, when X’s father came into camera view just enough to see the back of his buzzed head, one of his glowing Ripper tattooed arms, and a plain bright yellow box in one hand. He flipped the lid of the box open just as it moved out of sight. A few seconds later, everyone but Zora fell to their knees clutching their chest. The room darkened, and the camera cut off.
X just stared at the blank screen for a moment. I’m sure it was hard seeing his father tinted through the evil haze of his actions. I don’t know what I would do if I had caught my dad in a mass murdering spree. “It’s not possible,” X said rumbled. “It just isn’t.” His face folded into a scowl of confusion as he looked to me, his words were hollow with unbelief, “He Ripped them. When you know what to look for, it’s obvious. He Ripped that entire room at once. That isn’t possible.”
He leaned against the desk and turned back to face the others. “Is there active surveillance available for the bridge?”
He continued, “Is there a way to cut or blast our way in?”
“Negative, Sir. This ship was designed with M-I Tech’s most impenetrable Elvinite Plating. It literally coats everything.”
I was running out of questions. The situation was growing more dubious by the second. X turned, and apparently was feeling the same doubts about our potential success that I was. “Get everyone out,” he said. “Scion stays with me. The rest of you can go. I want you, as quietly and subtly as possible, to begin evacuating everyone on board to the lifeboats. If he has what I think he does, then we’re all screwed. Maybe some of you can get away while we distract him.”
Everyone just kind of looked at me. I guess somewhere along the way I really had become the boss. “Go!” I ordered, and with stampeding footfalls that would make a wildebeest herd jealous, the room was cleared except for me and X.
“I never thought it was possible, but if I’m right, that yellow box he was holding has got the Soul Diamond. It’s the only thing in our legends that could allow for something like that, but it’s supposed to have been lost for more than a thousand years. He could Rip every soul on this ship from there if we don’t get that diamond.”
“You have a plan?” I asked. I hoped.
“I do,” X said with a perked brow. “But you’re not going to like it.”
“That happens a lot these days. What is it?”
“I need you to let my dad Rip your soul.”
I nodded to push a throat-lodged gulp down, “You’re right I don’t like it.”
How a person with no biological propensity for fire could stand guarding the mines of Frostwick was one of the few questions unanswerable to Sway. Maybe the Veil Rippers deserved more credit for the fortitude it took to work every day in conditions that made even a Fire Elf sweat. They were still self-important crazies. Still, they didn’t deserve to have their homes covered in unending flows of lava.
The Magma Pressure Inhibitor was a simple enough device. It bored
down into the heart of volcanic pools and fissures to disperse the pressure that would inevitably build and thusly spew showers molten rock. Essentially, they turned an active volcano into a more-or-less dormant one. The central control spire pierced into the main magma chamber, ran up the vent, and rested just up at the end of the crater. It had taken severe damage during security’s fight with their mysterious intruder.
A Ripper technical crew was finishing up with the last of the repairs to secondary systems, but it was almost too late. The pressure of their notorious volcanic prisons had already built, and even if she could get the regulating systems back up and running, the damage had already been done. Below them, the hotbeds were getting ready to blow, and there was no way the MPI could handle defusing that much pressure so quickly.
Sway tapped furiously on the touchscreens of her touch-light arm computer, all the while cursing her family name. If she hadn’t been a Marauder she would be anywhere else instead of standing over a ready-to-blow volcano with nothing but a few field tools, and a crazy idea so outlandish it made Largo’s “fix an unfinished Cyborg” pitch seem like just another day at the office. Her plan wasn’t going to be impossible, but it was going to take more doing than she had time for.
She got lost in her computations while inputting the necessary calculations when the Chief of the Island, a rotund fellow covered in Ripper ink that swirled from under a hideously red Hawaiian style shirt, complete with white Panamanian slacks, snuck up on her, “You can fix it?”
“Yes,” she lied, after a startle that made her have to restart the last line of code, “So you can worry more about your man out to sea on the
, while I save your island.”
“He’s not our problem,” the corpulent leader wheezed, “He’s left the island, and that’s outside our jurisdiction. Only if he returns to Frostwick can we do something about him.”
Sway dropped her hands to stare at the middle-aged man. She made not the slightest attempt to hide any of the contempt she felt for him, “And so the people on that ship, including my friend, be damned?”
“It’s our rules.” He shrugged. “And as you well know, we didn’t come up with them. Amalgam settlements everywhere have similar restrictions. The world is too populated to have manhunts and blockades every time somebody gets out of line. It’s true that there are a few who might have gone after him regardless, but with the attack last night, we need everyone here.” He wiggled a finger in her face, “Our homes must be protected first. It’s a flag your Elvin brethren have flown many times over from the safety of their palaces in the North, so do not aim your hypocritical chiding at me, young Fireling.”
She wanted to waste no more time with this buffoon, so she turned back to her work as she mumbled, “Well, I guess it’s a good thing an Infinite stepped up and decided to do what you’re too scared,
, to do. Waddle back to your buffet,
,” she taunted, “While everyone else sweats and bleeds so you can have another day grazing at the trough.”
The Chief left Sway to her work. He bellowed with gross laughter as he vanished into one of the passages that led down into the actual prison tubes, “An Infinite! Now,
is funny. And they say Elves have no sense of humor.”
“You’d think he would be more concerned?” Sway said to herself. His island could still burn around him, and he’s moseying through like nothing’s the matter. She really hadn’t been expecting an answer to the question she asked herself, so when she got one, she snapped her head around with narrowing eyes when she heard a strange hiss.
“He’s has far too much faith in one who is about to fail.”
Sway reached for her black-diamond blade and stumbled backwards. Walking toward her in confident strides was the unmistakable flaming head she had seen at Falor. The remains of the Street Viper woman were masked with retribution, and shadowed by the canopy of unfurling wings that beat soot into billowing swirls behind her vengeful stalking.