Part XII: Gravity
You must login to vote
Alexander Stone paused outside the meeting room door. He could feel the tranquilizers he had taken percolating through his system, but the anxiety was cutting through them, sharp and metallic, a coppery taste in the back of his mouth. He closed his eyes. Took a deep breath. Let it out. Took another. Let it out.
He opened his eyes. He could do this. He could do this.
Alexander pushed open the door and went in. Devi sat at one end of the long table, her terminal spread out in front of her. She wore the rumpled, stained clothes she had arrived in, her hair still tangled and dusty. She did not look up immediately as he came in, but shut down her terminal and put it away.
"Devi," he said, and then hesitated. How to follow? "I'm...I'm sorry to hear about Constantine..."
She shrugged. "He lived by the gun. I don't think he was expecting anything else."
"Well." He sat down a prudent two seats away. "I'm pleased to see you made it home safely."
"Yes." Now she turned to look at him. "Yes, I did."
He took a deep breath. "Look. Devi. You have to understand, I have the Family to consider. My decision was made despite my love for you, not out of any lack of it. Now that our affairs are finished, I'm gratified to see you safe and whole. You understand that, right?"
"Our affairs are finished," Devi said. "You mean that the rest of the Family has taken them out of your hands."
"Yes." Alexander spread his own hands. "We've taken a terrible loss on this one. Lost face with the other lines, lost so many of our own. Bethany...Cassandra..."
"Were murdered, yes. I heard."
"There's just the two of us here, now. At least until we call Brant back home."
"I've already contacted him."
"Good." Alexander steepled his fingers. "We have to stick together, Devi."
She peered at him. "How many of your little feel-good pills have you taken?"
She waved a hand. "Forget it. Forget I said anything. I'm tired, that's all." She stood up. "I'm going to fix myself a drink. You want anything?"
"Yes. Thank you."
She went over to the half-bar and took down a pair of glasses. "What will you do now?" She said, her back to him. "With the Stone line, I mean."
"Consolidate. Try to rebuild our credibility. We'll have to play to the rest of the Family for a while, get back in their good graces. I'll do my best to paint this as an unavoidable accident rather than incompetence, but we'll have to see. I'll put Brant onto it. He's always been the best with propaganda."
She brought the glasses over and set one before him. "But business as usual otherwise?"
Alexander gave her a small, tired smile. "The Family prevails. As always."
"Of course." She sat down.
Alexander sipped at his drink. "Anyway. Rumor has it the Family troops are having some trouble of their own down on Knightsbridge, so that may work to our advantage. If we can point at them while we're defending our own errors, it should help..." He paused. Devi was looking at him with an odd, intent expression. He sipped his drink again. "I'll want you in Cassandra's place, of course. Poor Cassandra." He shook his head. "Everything that happened was so strange..."
"In Cassandra's place?" Devi raised an eyebrow.
"If that suits you. I could use your help. I..." He paused again, blinking. A cold sensation was creeping up his legs.
"No," Devi said. "I don't think that suits me. Because we're not going to do any of those things."
"What do you...?" The cold was rising past his knees now. He shivered, unable to help himself.
"You're not going to be doing anything, Alex." Devi stood up, and now her eyes were clear. They gleamed in the lamplight. "I just poisoned your drink. You're going to die, big brother."
He tried to stand and found that he couldn't. "Devi..." He looked up at her, feeling neither anger or fear, but only a species of tired resignation. "Damn it..."
"Sorry. But I think I'm done with the Family. I'm not going to subject anyone else to all this shit. Especially not any future generations." She dumped her own drink down the drain and drew a glass of water from the tap. "I've already talked to Brant about it. He'll back me."
"You have no idea how to lead people, Devi. You...god, I feel cold..."
She went to a cabinet on the far side of the room and fished around in the back, coming out with an old woolen blanket. She unfolded it and spread it over him. "Better?"
"Not really." His eyes felt heavy. "This was a stupid idea, little sister."
"Probably. But it was necessary." She smiled a brittle little smile. "And it made me feel better, too. How about that?" The smile went away. "I'm taking our line in a different direction, Alex."
"My terminal password is LN3370," he said. "Read the files. At least acquaint yourself with the data." He shivered again. "I wish there was more time..."
He forced his eyelids open again and met her eyes. "Whatever you do, you take care of the line, understand me? Take care of the Stone family. Do us proud."
"I will." She leaned over him and kissed him. "Love you, big brother."
He smiled weakly. He felt so very, very tired. "Love you too...do us proud, little sister..." His eyes slipped shut.
Devi kissed his cool forehead. "Goodbye, Alex."
Sleep was never just sleep for him anymore. The darkness swam with voices, faces, memories of the past and future. They whispered to him, down there in the dark. They spoke secrets in languages he could almost understand, recited magic formulae he could almost- but not quite- remember, hinted at marvels and horrors...
He fought his way up from sleep like a diver rising from the depths, pulling himself up into the cold light of day, gradually acquiring the clothing of who, and when, and what, as he swam toward the surface.
Isaac opened his eyes.
He was in an unfamiliar room, bathed in warm sunlight from a window beside the bed. The air was crisp with morning cold, but the shaft of light that fell over his blanket was warm.
He sat up, and realized two things almost at once. The first was that he had stained the bedsheets with his blood. The second was that, beneath the sheets, he was naked.
"I ought to make you pay for those," a voice said. "Ruining good linen with your dirty blood."
He looked up and saw a woman in grass-stained jeans and a white shirt leaning against the doorframe. She was of indeterminate age, her face careworn but not old. She wore her hair short, in a style he associated with the schoolboys of his childhood, and she was deeply tanned.
"I'm kidding, of course," she said. "We were in a bit of a hurry, and you were recovering fast enough that we figured you'd be able to wash yourself when you woke up. Not that there weren't more than a few volunteers to help you with that." She grinned.
"I'm flattered, I think," Isaac said. He rubbed at his forehead. "I'm running behind here. Who's 'we', in this case?"
The woman appeared to consider this. "I don't know," she said. "We're not a company, or anything like that. The Society, maybe? We don't have a name for all of us together. Blake has the Outriders, of course, but-"
"Let me try again. Where am I?"
"You're in the city of Haven, on an island most people call Avalon."
He looked at her. "Avalon."
"I'm still asleep, aren't I?"
"I didn't say it was Avalon," the woman said. "But it might be. Who knows?"
"Uh-huh." He put a hand to his aching head again. Something occurred to him, and he snapped his head back up. "Liam-!"
"Was still unconscious, last time I checked." The woman crossed her arms over her chest. "He's in worse shape than you. And you both owe Blake your ass. Asses. I'm Erin, by the way."
"Nice to meet you," Isaac said. He still felt dazed.
"Think you're up to eating some lunch?"
As if called up by her mention of the word, Isaac's stomach awoke and put in the opinion that it was indeed very much up to eating lunch. Possibly several lunches.
"Good. There's clean clothes by the foot of your bed. Get dressed, and I'll walk you down to the commons."
"Um." Isaac hesitated. "I'm sort of not wearing anything under-"
"Oh, my virgin eyes." Erin looked more amused than ever. "I'll live. Go on, hurry up."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.