Chapter 5 (part 1)!
“These are really good, you know,” she said, her eyes filled with a smile.
“Who’s this guy that keeps reappearing?”
“There are two,” I said. I walked around behind her to see which one she was talking about. “This one, that’s Gabriel…”
I looked at my imagined version of the man I loved, feeling the blood go to my dick, then back to my head, to my eyes, where my vision blurred through tears.
“Sorry,” Katie said, looking away and rolling up my drawings, “I should’ve thought… I mean I assumed one of them might have been. Do you want to talk about it?”
I did want to. I wanted to tell her everything about him. She could already see what I saw; my drawings weren’t exaggerations, though perhaps they were flattering poses. But she didn’t know his softness. His playful curiosity. His grand intellect. How he always challenged me, pushed me to be better. How he and I sparked ideas off each other like flint, and how we fanned some of those into great flames. How he sold my greatest idea, the Sky Castle, to the Aquatians, and how they were using versions of it to maintain control over the Outposts. It wasn’t a betrayal; he didn’t know what he was doing at the time.
“Sorry. You asked me if I wanted to talk about him. And I do. It’s a longer story, that’s all.”
“We’ve got time.”
I let her follow me to a sink at the wall with a recently used coffee pot, one of the old Italian ones that brews over a stove, and recounted some of Gabriel’s story to her as I cleaned it and filled it with fresh coffee and water.
“Those gambling dens…”
“Nothing to do with him or me. All the Sky Castle was meant to be was a kind of fancy observatory that you could live in, and it would be able to take off and dock onto certain buildings…”
“They can take off?! Fucking hell.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think the domes they use are quite the same as our original designs. I mean, that’s the most complex part of it. On a tall enough building, you get a good few miles of surveillance on a clear day.”
The dream of the fortress we wanted to use to float away from all of the horrors of the world… “I think he thought it was going to help. They… my father – our father, sorry – found out what we’d been working on. I said no. Gabriel was approached separately. They may well have just made a good case, but when I asked him what the hell happened, he couldn’t remember much. I think they drugged him to get it.”
Katie’s wrist began to beep and give off a pulsating glow from just beneath the skin.
“Strange, I’ve never seen an implant do that before.”
The beeps were consistent with a kind of Morse code. I started to ask, but Katie shushed me sharply.
I noticed the rhythms repeating a couple of times for confirmation. When they stopped, Katie paused. Her eyes made tiny movements, as if visualising her cipher. I wasn’t sure if it was safe to interrupt such a process, but it was interesting enough to watch, despite the urge to insert some jokes about Katie being a cyborg. Unfortunately, her message seemed almost as serious as mine.
“So, I think it’s time I told you, I mean, I don’t really have a choice now,” she said, her expression sharpened, her voice delicate.
“Tell me what?”
“You’re a spy?”
“Er- in a way, I guess. The implant isn’t subtle, is it?”
“I’m an operative in the rebellion. Tell me quickly, how do you feel about that?”
“Why, are you going to knuckledust me if I tell you how awful that is?”
“Yes,” Katie said, without a beat. I couldn’t tell if she was being serious, or whether it was like that old line about telling someone a secret but then having to kill them.
“Right. I was exiled from Aquatia. I have no love for it or its claims, if we’re going to talk politics. I think we need to solve the problems here. As you can see, I like to find ways to fix things.”
“You also like to run away from them, like they do,” she said, not unkindly, though not without judgement either. “Why are you still hiding?”
“I thought I could fix it if I could just get away from them.”
“It’s my systems they’re using. I designed them. The ones in the Book, the ones they’re using for propaganda. I need to stop it.”
Katie looked into the middle distance.
“Are you… did I say something wrong?”
She answered immediately. “The answer to my question earlier, by the way, was, ‘I see it every night’.”
I looked at her, confused.
“If you’re ever asked about the wolf and the moon. That’s what you say. For now, at least, it’s let us communicate safely. That, and our implants, which we’ve managed to modify.”
There was war in her eyes now. I was being pulled into something, because she saw it time for me to come out of hiding and confront my problem. She wanted me to confront my father.
“I think that’s proof enough that you can trust me,” she said, unrolling my erotica again.
“It’s only proof if it works when I’m asked the question. You could be stitching me up,” I added.
Katie wasn’t listening. She was analysing the drawing almost forensically, focusing chiefly on his face. “And I need you to tell me who this other guy is.”
“The other one? That’s the Daimyo of the Outpost.”
“I thought so.” Katie looked at the image, some of the sobriety fading from her expression. “So you know him quite well, then.” A smile returned to her lips, and I was no longer sure whether I was talking to my half-sister or my apparent comrade-in-arms.
“We hook up, now and again.”
“Okay. Can you get us a meeting?”
I could have, easily. I would rather have not. The Daimyo had a bit of a thing for me, and I had more than a bit of a thing for him. I found him so intoxicating to be around, I typically rebuffed his invitations to avoid agreeing to a variety of favours. He always knew when I was in the Outpost, thanks to his version of mine and Gabriel’s Sky Castle. He was also very vocal about the Book of Mars, and when he spoke, it made sense long enough usually for me to do whatever he wanted me to, before I regained my own sense of perspective. The creeping realisation of being aligned with my father was most often the bitter pill that snapped me out of it. That, and I wasn’t sure what Katie wanted to do with him.
“Why, are you planning to negotiate?” I said, my voice cracking despite efforts to sound calm. Katie didn’t reply. Not with words, anyway. She simply looked at me, her expression calm, resolved. I understood.
“I don’t think…”
“Be careful here,” Katie interrupted my excuse. “This man is responsible for a lot of pain and suffering, either directly or not. He’s a big part of the reason we’re ‘us’ and ‘them’. His ambition is destroying us.”
“Surely he’s not the root of it all, though?”
“Of course not, but he’s certainly a keystone. Taking him out will go a long way to furthering our aims.”
There were a hundred other Daimyo across the West. They had almost total autonomy, but only because the East didn’t care what they did. If you were to put someone in charge of an apple tree, you probably wouldn’t mind what they did with it, as long as it stayed alive and they kept giving you some of its fruit. For that reason, I didn’t really see what good this was going to do – unless there were ninety-nine other agents ready to strike at the same time, and it was risky: one miss and the whole thing would become impossible. Of course, I was happy to play devil’s advocate for a man that enthralled me the way he did, despite myself.
“You say all of this so easily, like it’s child’s play to you.”
“Don’t mistake me. I have an understanding of what needs to be done. I‘m not being casual.”
“Still. This guy… we don’t have the easiest of relationships, but I think he cares for me, deep down.”
“Keep telling yourself that. Look, you may have an epic romance, you might think he loves you, and from the way you’re talking, you might love him too.”
“Whatever. If you don’t help me, I’ll find another way. Maybe it’s best that you don’t come, actually. It’ll all be less complicated that way. I shouldn’t have involved you. I thought we believed in the same things, and it sounded like you wanted to do something about all that regret you’re carrying around.”
“And there’s no other way? You can’t just… kidnap him, replace him?”
“I’m not planning on torturing him, if that’s what you’re concerned about. I don’t need any information – at least, not directly from him. That’s what computers are for, you know,” Katie said, allowing herself a small condescending smile. “And you said this guy was bad for your health. So let me break the habit for you.”
“Is this what you’re planning to do with our father, too?”
Katie put a hand on mine. “Not until I’ve had the chance to understand why.”