The boys descended the condemned residential towers and made their way into the tiny forest sloping towards Koster’s industrial district. Leah waited a while before following the boys, but she sent Gizmo ahead to tail them from a distance. Once she was sure the thugs couldn’t detect her, she took a route she favored through the treetops and quickly passed them. Within a few minutes, she’d descended on the industrial district and made her way to Beathen’s shop.
The mechanic was expecting her and, even though the shop was closed, he’d left a high window open for Leah’s entrance. The red-headed teen leaped easily through the portal into the shop and made her way to Beathen’s workstation. He sat on a high stool, leaning over a podium-like desk and soldering something. The shop had just closed and the entire workshop was dark except under the soft lights where Beathen worked.
“I’m just about finished with your part,” Beathen said as Leah approached, “…it should be ready for you to use tonight.” Leah moved closer and sat at a stool near the podium. She could now clearly make out the advanced transponder Beathen had made for her to communicate with Gizmo over long distances. That didn’t help her to comprehend it at all; to her, it looked like a tiny lightning rod. She wondered, momentarily, how many kinds of upgrades Beathen had made for her father’s many servants and spies.
Of course, the fact that Leah’s estranged siblings were children of the Elite McNab was kept secret, and they were from all different walks of life. The housekeepers and other staff in the McNab estate referred to them each by their various surnames and apparently genuinely believed that they were among the seemingly random tradesmen and artisans that Leah’s father would employ from time to time. Only Master McNab and his wife, Beathen, Leah, and Mason (her father’s trusted valet) knew about the scattered offspring. From talks Leah had had with many of them, she guessed that they didn’t even know about each other.
Leah thought that all those progenies were unnecessary, but to her father, they were part of some much grander goal. Once, while thinking about it, she’d wondered how he’d kept such a mass-scale plan from not only those he’d sired but from the greater aristocracy as well. Years of surveilling people from various walks of life had taught her why. The difference between her father and all those others …was imagination. In this society, it was less risky (perhaps even most beneficial) to stick to the norms of one’s class, but Master McNab was clearly a man of deviant, incomprehensible goals.
High Chief McNab’s eccentric stratagems were so unusual, that they were hardly ever conceived by his peers, much less investigated. As far as Leah knew, no one had even imagined that her father was planting his seed in cities and towns across the sprawling nation. From her work as a thieving spy, Leah had provided intel on several of the other elite houses’ agents in Koster City’s many social circles, but none were more terrifying than those of her father’s own house.
Shivers shot down Leah’s spine as she thought of a handful of her siblings with the greatest penchants for murder. It troubled her to think that she was so closely related to some of the New Democracy’s most dangerous killers. Her father kept her close (opposite to how it must have looked to the local aristocracy) but didn’t involve her in his most heinous projects. She’d only met some of the vilest of them in passing. The scariest of these was her pirate half-brother Lamia.
Many of them had been granted various augments to aid in her father’s work; none of them as many as Leah herself. She received her first augments when she was only seven: a risky procedure to say the least. Her mother had compelled Leah to keep them a secret. Since each augment often required more than one operation, Leah had missed much of the normal life of her schoolyard peers. Her mother explained this as her being sickly, while her father bribed and extorted the operators.
By the time she was fifteen, Leah had endured hundreds of operations. She had become a master of storytelling and misdirection when it came to answering questions about why she missed so much school. Like a phantom only appearing from time to time in the classroom, she felt irrevocably distanced from the other young people. She remembered feeling quite lonely. I’m lonely still… she thought as her thoughts brought her back to the augments. Were they worth it?
Glancing up at Beathen, Leah was again reminded of the mechanic’s skill and versatility with the augments he’d created. She trusted him totally; when he motioned for her to follow him to his incline table, she lay down compliantly. Leah was still deep in thought as the shadows in the room began to swallow the lights above her. A single blue light – from the tattoed technician’s operating pen – seemed to create a dull laser that carved a path through her range of view. Objects around her began to lose their definition until the shadows swallowed them all.
. . . . .
“Leah,… Leah!,” a soft, feminine voice called out to her.
When she awoke, Leah felt as refreshed as if she’d woken from a three-day nap. She was still lying on the inclined table but lay there for a few moments collecting herself. Leaning forward and taking in the workshop, she felt as if her vision had somehow gotten better. Her mechanic friend was a few paces off to her left, tinkering mindfully with some other project. Leah closed her eyes and focused her augments, but could not find anyone else in the room.
“Beathen?” she murmured.
“Hmmm?” the wiry man didn’t look up.
“Who else is in here?”
“No one!” Beathen glanced over at her so suddenly that Leah became alarmed, “What do you mean?”
“I heard a woman’s voice calling me,” Leah said, “that’s what woke me up.”
Beathen grabbed a small remote control near him and dimmed the lights in the workshop. Though it was now very dark, Leah could see him clearly. He sat up, closing his eyes and putting his hands on his knees. After a few moments, he said, “There’s no one here, Leah.” He returned the lights overhead to their previous luminance and gazed at the girl. “I installed a digital receptor so that you could see and hear what Gizmo sees and hears.” He said this as he rose from his stool and approached her, “Let’s test it out.”
“What do I do?”
“Say Gizmo’s name.”
Leah closed her eyes, “Gizmo.”
A flash of vision burst into Leah’s consciousness. Her eyes were closed, but she could clearly make out the tops of trees backdropped by the starry night sky. She couldn’t hear the forest, just the sound of a silent workshop and her own heartbeat.
“What do you see?”
“I can see through Gizmo’s eyes!”, her eyes were still closed, but her face had broken into a smirk of wonder.
“Can you hear anything?”
“Just that you’re getting closer…”
“Ask Gizmo to give you access to her auditory receptors.”
“Gizmo, give me access to your auditory receptors.”
“I cannot, Leah,” a voice in her head whispered. It was a soft, female voice but somehow mature.
Leah’s eyes shot open and she gasped for breath, “Wha…what?”
Beathen was by her side, “What happened?!”
“Where…?” Leah was looking all over the workshop, “Where is she?”
Beathen glanced around, alarmed, “Who?!”
“I heard that voice again. I asked Gizmo to give me access…,” Leah’s voice trailed off. She looked up at Beathen as if for an explanation, “The voice said, ‘I cannot, Leah.’”
The mechanic glared at her as if he was being pranked. The bewilderment in Leah’s face must have been enough to convince him that he was not because he began stumbling away from her with one hand on his forehead, “It’s… impossible!”
It was clear that Beathen was incredulous but Leah couldn’t help herself, “How can Gizmo have a voice?”
Beathen couldn’t respond. He just kept glancing between Leah and the floor and shaking his head.
“Leah,” the soft voice said, “It’s almost time for your meeting.”
After a moment, the meaning of this statement dawned on Leah and she jumped up from the table, “What time is it?” Not waiting for a response, she glanced over at the clock Beathen kept at the far end of the workshop and focused her ocular augments to see the hands clearly. She had fifteen minutes before she had to meet the young thugs in the clearing at the base of the tiny forest. “I have to go,” she said; thanking her friend before leaping through the high window and back out into the night.
She landed in a roll and sprang forward into a jog. She was clearing the workshop gates when the voice returned, “Leah, there is a new danger.”
“Gizmo?! How are you talking to me?”
“I was not able to grant access to my auditory receptors, but I am able to send signals to your auditory augments.”
…And this is what you sound like? Leah thought. The voice continued…
“It concerns your half-brother, Lamia.”
If it weren’t for her active pace, Leah’s blood might’ve frozen in her veins at the sound of that name. Lamia was a pirate from much further south, and the only one of her siblings she knew of with a flying quattour. She’d only seen him twice before, once swooping through the night over Koster city. Based on the snippets of info she got from her father, Leah liked to imagine that her brother was a charming sailor and explorer.
The only time she had spoken to him was in their father’s mansion and she’d seen the spiteful, brutal kind of man he really was. He was large, strong, and mean to the help. And while he knew the two of them were kin, like all the other siblings he seemed to have no idea how many there really were. Instead, he seemed to be most interested in instilling a deep-seated fear in Leah by recounting several stories of his most violent atrocities that day. When they were alone, he shared plans of more vile things he planned to do. Leah relayed all these accounts to her father, of course.
Since then, several goons would appear in Koster over the years wearing a sigil that claimed Lamia as their employer. Whenever one of his thugs was in the city, it was always for something most troublesome. They beat, kidnapped, tortured, and coerced, and there tended to be bodies left behind at each of their visits. Leah had long wondered how much of this was at her father’s bidding; it seemed to her that Lamia had sick practices all his own.
She didn’t break pace, but continued her conversation with Gizmo, “What now? Has he sent more of his goons to cause trouble?”
“No.” Gizmo transmitted, “Lamia is here.”
This is my first web-published story. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. To get the bi-weekly chapters I send out, just click here.
Special Author’s Note
When reading over this chapter again, I wondered if there had been enough established reason to fear Lamia. In the end, I ended up adding only one line about he was among the siblings Leah feared.
The biggest deal in this chapter is Gizmo’s consciousness. How long has (she?/it?) been conscious? What would’ve happened if some other person had chosen her? What does any of this have to do with the stone?