Layla Noir: Chapter 23
The awkward silence stretched on. Mick knew that she was right. At this point, the only thing that was holding him together was the thought of revenge. He was no longer a human being, he was more like a loose bundle of body parts held in the clutches of a magnetic attraction to the desire for bloodshed residing in the core of his essence. What made it even worse was how her verbal attack had forced him to consider that perhaps he had been this way ever since his life fell apart. He had never really put himself back together, he had just cauterized the wounds and set the entirety of his focus on a pendulum that swung wildly between dangerously hedonistic escapism and extreme violence perpetrated on anyone he could get away with hurting. What would he do if he succeeded? If he killed The Overarching Chancellor… what then? Certainly, Mick couldn’t see himself helping to set up a new government or taking care of the cultural refugees as the entire civilization reeled from the change. Finally, quietly, Seshat spoke, “A warrior’s greatest enemy is often himself, for when there is no one left to fight, he finds himself unable to shift paradigms. Many warriors will engineer situations of violence and danger to avoid any and all forms of self knowledge… and self love. I see this in you, Mick of Earth. Your inner fire has warmed you in these cold days but it threatens to burn down your dwelling as soon as you cease to channel the energy. Heed my warning, Earthman. Peace cannot be born of war”.
“I… I’m not perfect, ok? And I never said that I was” Mick could almost hear her displeasure in her silence. “I’m just a fucked up guy who wants to do whatever I can today to balance the scales of yesterday. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m doomed to failure but… I have to try. I may be fucked but I have to act like I’m not, like I have a shot at… at…” as Mick stumbled over the knot of thoughts and feelings that Seshat had exposed, he heard a very unfamiliar noise, mysterious at first but so frighteningly familiar after a moment’s thought: footsteps. Mick was grateful that he had already been speaking quite quietly. Dropping into the subvocal range, he communicated with Seshat, “shit. Do you hear that? Where do I hide? Should we go back or…” Suddenly, the pyramid in Mick’s chest began to glow. At first, Mick had figured that this addition was mostly stylistic, or perhaps even honorific. He thought maybe The Blacksmith had wanted to make him more like their race. However, now he was soon to be amazed by the true purpose of the addition. The light quickly grew in intensity and size, swallowing Mick up within it, surrounding him like a cocoon. As the intensity hit its peak, the mostly oval shape surrounding Mick rushed inwards towards his skin and then it was like it was gone. Seshat shared an explanation, saying,
“Hush. Do not speak. I will speak for you after modulating my voice to sound like a male. It will be a little odd as I’m having to repurpose certain elements of your tech to do this but we should pass basic scrutiny. I discovered that you have been given a very powerful tool: a holographic disguise. You now appear to be one of us in every respect except height. Luckily, you are tall for your race, so you will pass for a runt amongst us. This won’t work if anyone really investigates, especially through any form of physical contact, but it should aid us during some potentially negative scenarios. Quiet, he comes… try to face him as much as possible. The hologram can only do so much to conceal your sheath and your bag.” As she finished, what appeared to Mick to be a basic guard unit rounded the corner and quickly started to speak in tones of severe surprise at seeing someone else in this specific location. Then, from somewhere in his chest, Mick heard a voice projecting itself in the same language, likely answering questions or accusations put forth by the guard. This went on for just long enough for Mick to become incredibly uncomfortable. Do aliens sway or hop from foot to foot when speaking to each other? Do they gesture with their hands? His pondering was interrupted by a harsh and hurried whisper from Seshat, “follow him, now! Keep pace about two full beings behind him. And stay quiet!” Mick began to follow the guard off in the direction he had been walking before he discovered Mick. “We are not entirely in danger, but our situation could be better”, she continued, “I basically told him we had snuck away to sleep. He is not happy. We are being lead towards a disciplinary hearing. My suggestion is to run as soon as possible. I gave him a believable name so hopefully he searches through his own ranks before raising any kind of serious alarm… wait for my cue… there, see that nexus up ahead? He is going to continue to go straight but we are going to enter the portal to your right. As soon as you can, run as fast as you can down that tunnel”. Mick did as he was instructed, breaking pace and blazing down the other tunnel like a shot from a gun. Mick had been fast in the battle for The Womb, but this made that look like laziness. Mick wasn’t sure about this, but he wondered if Seshat was somehow helping him to interface with his augmentations and thereby allowing him to access more of their potential. “Left! Left!” Mick slid to a stop, completely missing the turn she had suggested, but was back up and running down the new path in less than a full second. “Right!” Mick was a little closer this time. He was getting the hang of it. “Ok ok… you can slow down. In fact, I would advise it. The more we can pass for a normal runt from a distance, the better. Lying is absolutely terrifying”.
“Wait… you can get scared? That seems like a design flaw” as was so often the case, even Mick wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny or just being an asshole.
“I am as real as you” was her curt and somewhat confusing reply.
“Uh… yeah I’m not touching that one. What do I know? I’m just some earth monkey. So look… all we have is each other, ok?” Mick continued walking slowly, subvocalizing “I’m sorry about before. What I said. For all you knew, you would be alone forever. You would have gone apeshit crazy if you spent the whole time obsessing over the problems in your world. I’m sure that you will make a much better partner for me right now because of all the better stuff that you did. All I wanted was a bit of help, though, because I don’t have a plan. I’m not a great warrior. I’m just a fucked up, ex-cop, drug addicted and actually now that I mention it, serious withdrawal suffering asshole from Earth with a weird obsession for the collapse of your government. I need your help to even have a chance to spit at the fucking piece of alien trash, let alone killing him or rescuing Wiz. Will you please help me to plan something less suicidal than a blind frontal assault?”
“I appreciate the brief flash of humility. You may not be as dense as you seem” Seshat was gentle yet intense.
“Damning me with faint praise. Story of my life. My partner used to tell me that I was a whole lot better than the lazy junky racist I replaced. I never took it as a huge compliment…”
“Colloquial phrases and ego stroking aside, I genuinely do appreciate your attempt at diplomacy. Yes, you are right in that we have no one but each other. I will help you. I have spent the better part of the past few minutes dedicating any extra processing power to the bloodthirsty thoughts you wished I had had before. Our chances of success would be heavily improved by rescuing Wiz first, but I’m not sure that that’s possible. We have so little time…”
“What if we freed him during the ceremony?” Mick asked as inspiration struck.
“How would that help us? We would be surrounded by Elite Hunters and obviously within the range of The Chancellor himself. We would die before we touched him”. Seshat wasn’t impressed.
“But how will he be restrained? I realize how ignorant this sounds but bear with me… if a human had been restrained by placing both hands in a pair of handcuffs behind his back, basically a way to force them together so that his range and usability of the limbs was very limited, a well-placed bullet to the chain linking the two cuffs could separate them, freeing the human. This would create a clusterfuck… I mean, a large distraction would be caused as some searched for whoever shot the bullet, others attempted to restrain the prisoner again, and everyone else freaked out. If there was any way for us to free Wiz at some pivotal moment during the ceremony, maybe we could use the distraction to get something done?”
“Ah, I see”, said Seshat, pausing briefly before continuing, “this is somewhat less ridiculous than I first thought. My apologies. This actually may be possible… he will be wearing an amulet that dulls or negates all of his energetic and mental prowess. There will be no need to bind his limbs once the amulet is on, especially given the plethora of guards and weaponry I began to speak upon earlier. However…”
“The amulet is weak to explosions!” interrupted Mick.
“Yes… how did you know? No matter, as you say, the amulet is suspectible to concussive force. This is seen as a small issue in a reality with little to no revolutionary thoughts or beings, but if we had some way of projecting a concussive force…”
“Fucking sucks that I lost Wiz’s old gun, then” said Mick with a twinge of guilt.
“I beg your pardon??” Seshat was shocked. This was not the reaction Mick had expected. “You… no. You couldn’t mean that old gun, could you? The small weapon that creates literal forcefields and sends them towards an enemy, crushing or otherwise disabling them when used correctly… an invaluable relic. One of the most prized possessions of my creator…”
“Uhhhhh” Mick was, somewhat surprisingly, more terrified now than he had been during much of the past few weeks.
“Uhhhh? Uhh?!? Is that all you have to say for yourself? I would comment that I can’t believe that you did that but I guess it fits, why he would give such a priceless relic to a human I certainly cannot fathom…”
“Alright already, humans are shitty! Would you step off your god damn high horse for a sec? Jesus! Yes, that invaluable relic. He told me not to fire it too often but I was caught by surprise, we were both caught by surprise when… when the fascists slaughtered The Pirates. I was in combat. I remembered his warning too late. It exploded. I’m really sorry? Like I don’t really know what to say…” Mick trailed off, truly ashamed of himself but also somehow indignant and angry.
“I have never swore before, but I would like to try it now” said Seshat in a sweet tone that clashed with the meaning of her words, “I would clear my throat if I were a biological entity, but I guess I have no need. Here we go… fuck you, you shitty fucking braindead retard fuckwit numbskull with your idiotic, dipshit, empty fucking useless mind and your selfish, dimwitted, dumbass behaviour. Go to hell, then fuck yourself while you’re there, and also fuck your relatives with a rusty spoon until they bleed out, you worthless piece of fucknut trash! I can’t fucking believe that you did that! That was literally the only one in existence and perhaps our only hope at this god damn juncture of a clusterfuck!”
Mick was surprised to hear himself speak as he quietly asked, “a rusty spoon? Where in all fuck did you get that?”
“Shut your mouth. I will decide when you have the right to speak. Keep walking along this path while I try to think of a way out of this mess!” This was her bitter response.
Mick poked the bear. “Clusterfuck was cool though. I see you figured it out from context. Nice one. That actually was kind of impressive. Must have taken a lot of research”.
“Merely a few of your measly, nearly empty seconds, human… but thank you. I did expend more effort than perhaps I should have. I have never been in combat before. I spent the brief pause in my speech just now considering the ethical implications of berating a soldier for his actions during justified combat. I may have overstepped” she finished, finally calm once more.
“That’s ok”, said Mick, forgiving her instantly and kind of hating himself for it, “I doubt that will be the last time that a woman yells at me for making a big mistake. There’s gotta be other ways though? Like, I can only assume that these amulets are designed to be impervious to the traditional…” Seshat interrupted him, saying,
“You are one fortunate being!”
“Really? Cus I would kind of like to argue that point…” his sarcasm was lost on her.
“No, you fool, your right arm… whoever did this to you must have possessed almost unimaginable talent”
“Well, I didn’t really know the guy but that sounds about right! Why, though?”
“Your right arm has the capability to become a nearly perfect replica of that obselete weapon! All I have to do is…” Mick jumped a little as sections of each side of his right arm opened up and flipped over each other, creating a rough X shape with a larger opening pointing outwards and a closer binding at the back. A third bar expanded upwards from the top of his arm, just below the opening of the X, and a vortext of sorts coalesced at the forefront of the triad. “Careful now”, continued Seshat, “once it has been activated you need only to clench your fist to fire shots from it. The recoil shouldn’t be much stronger than the original technology. How fascinating! How amazing! It works almost exactly like the original, except it draws the energy from the surrounding enrionment instead of using its own… Well, you would probably call it a wormhole but that’s not really accurate, but honestly, given the challenge at hand…”
“Ok ok ok, stop sucking his dick”, interrupted Mick as the weapon on his arm reverted back to being inert, “You are amazed. He was amazing. I understand. Dope. So does my wild plan have a chance of working out or what?”
“Firstly, I’m 98.4% sure that I ought to be extremely offended by what you just said to me”, answered Seshat, “secondly, it’s hardly a plan. It’s more like the first step of a scheme. But, thirdly… yes. This might actually be our best shot… if we actually make a plan out of it”.
“Sick! Let’s make a fucking PLAN!” At the exact moment that Mick said this, the wall to his left parted along a seam in the middle, becoming a door. Standing in this newly opened portal were a dozen guards wearing Agression Force Augmenters. They were definitely surprised to see him.
Author’s Note: Confused? Find chapter 22 of this sci-fi noir novel that I am writing and releasing live, at least one chapter every two weeks, right here. Enjoy! I really am excited for people to read upcoming chapters and I hope to hear back from people soon. Leave a comment if you have anything to say about this story so far, where you think it is going, where you want it to go… whatever you like. Thank you for reading! There are only five chapters left… I’m excited to show you all how this ends :)