Lamia was a muscular man with the same kind of pale-golden complexion as Leah’s father. His arms, legs, and torso were massive, and he had long bushy dirty blonde hair. It almost looked as if he were trying to grow dreadlocks and gave up: his hair was a messy tangle of interlocked sections. As he approached his half-sister, his hair shook stiffly back and forth like a tired pendulum. He held out a hand as if Leah would just take it with glee as he smiled his wide, toothy smile.
This was a man who clearly prided himself on his individuality. No common browns or grays were anywhere on his attire; the only black on his person was the sash he wore around his waist like the pirates of the old Caribbean. Instead, his hybrid silk shirt was ruffled and Mannah orange. His trousers, Leah thought, were the ugliest green she’d ever seen: faded as if he’d been covered in swamp algae. A bandana matching the ugly green covered his forehead, and the brutal pirate wore thick boots like a sailor might wear.
After a moment of holding his hand out, he addressed his little sister informally, “I looked for you for a while, but then I thought I’d just wait for you here. I have spies in our father’s house, so I know what you’ve been sent to find.”
“Why would you tell me that?” Leah snapped, “You know I’ll tell father.”
“After I have the stone, it won’t matter. Our father won’t have any control over any of us. You’re like me, Leah. You’re wild at heart. wouldn’t it be nice to escape his overbearing control?” Lamia stepped a little closer to her, “Give me the stone, Sister.”
“If you have spies in the house, then you know I don’t have the stone. I’ve already reported to Mother-”
“She’s not my mother, and too foolish to see through you. You’re too smart to just hand it over to them. I suspect you know it’s worth more than Father’s futile machinations. I thought I’d give you the courtesy of seeing things my way before I searched your apartment.”
Leah feigned an incredulous gasp, “If I did have it, I would never be stupid enough to hide it there. Anyway, the Patties are already deep in the look for it; that’s way out of my league.”
“Our father is the Head Chief of the Patrician Force, little cat.” As he said this, he tipped his head back in annoyance, glaring at the stars, “There’s nothing that’s ‘out of our league.”
Leah looked down, grimacing and grinding her teeth, “I. Don’t. Have it, Lamia!” She looked up and glared at the pirate.
The burly brother gazed into her eyes for a long moment before looking away again, “Where are you headed now?”
After a moment, Leah relaxed visibly, “To Beathen’s. Why?”
“I’m taking your word for now, but if I find out you’re lying to me…” Lamia’s speech slowed to a menacing crawl, “You’ll suffer the same wrath as Father.” He brought his gaze down and met her eyes. Even with the moon high, Leah stood fully in the terrible shadow of the towering brute. She could all but feel the seething anger under his calm demeanor.
“Search my place if you want.” Her voice was calm, but not cowed, “Search anywhere you want ‘brother’, you’d be better off starting with the Pats.”
Lamia’s face broke into a most wicked grin, “Come now!” he turned and walked back to his monstrous quattour, “I’ve already paid them a visit. It was pretty bloody.” He mounted the bat-like machine and took off into the night without another word.
. . . . . . . . .
Finally back at Beathen’s shop, Leah found the mechanic running diagnostics on the boys’ DNA. “What’s going on?” Leah asked as she peered at his screens.
“You were right, they have no augments.” Beathen said, “They’re not related to any of the major houses either. I’ve tried questioning them, but they won’t talk to me at all.” He had been looking at his screens while he spoke, but now he suddenly snapped his head up, searching the room for Gizmo, “Gizmo, come here please.”
The cat-like quattour approached Beathen and sat in front of him. “Do like this,” Beathen said as he raised one hand in the air. Gizmo raised a corresponding paw. “Go into the diagnostic unit.” He ordered, and Gizmo complied. The quattour stood on top of the disc as if awaiting further orders. Beathen looked at Leah, “Leah… Why is your quattour understanding me?”
“What?!” Leah glanced at him surprised, “This isn’t exactly crazy behavior for Gizmo. What about all the other times I’ve come here, she alwa-”
“I thought you were doing that, Leah. No. Gizmo understands me. How can it understand me?”
Leah realized that that was the first time she’d heard him refer to Gizmo as an “it”. The word was said with such intention that it gave her pause, “Beathen… What are you saying, exactly?”
“You’re quattour is behaving as if it is alive, Leah! As if it has a mind of its own. I’ve always registered higher CPU functions from her, but I’ve never imagined anything like this. All that time… she was complying on her own.”
“Beathen, you said that quattours are designed to intuitively anticipate their owner’s intentions. Over time, they get better and better at it, right? Gizmo and I have been together for more than three years!”
Beathen turned his attention sharply to Gizmo, “Gizmo, come here.” She hopped off of the disc and approached the mechanic. “Jump once, Gizmo.” She did. “Jump twice.” Once again, the quattour complied. “I’m not linked to your quattour at all, Leah. How is she doing that?”
Leah slumped into a rolling chair near Beathen’s desk. In her head, she heard the same voice from before, “I’m with you, Leah.” The teen shot a stare at the metallic replica of a tiger’s skeleton. Concern and confused anger washed over her face.
Beathen was glancing between them and suddenly blurted out. “Where is the stone?!”
Leah could hear the anxiety in his voice. She grabbed at her waist and pulled the little sack loose. “What do you think it is, Beathen?”
“Give it to me.” Beathen snatched the pouch from her hand and half-ran to his diagnostic consoles. Pressing a button, he opened a small slot in a short tower near the large disc. As soon as he opened the sack, however, a great, golden-brown light flooded his facility. Everything was illuminated! The tiniest dark corners of his workshop were suddenly filled with light. Beathen stuffed the stone into the slot and pressed the button to close it. As the small door closed, the light receded from the shop, until it was lit only by the few lamps Beathen had on.
“You have it!” The voice came from the cage in the corner of the room. Beathen and Leah ignored the outcrier, rushing over to the screens to see what the mechanic would discover.
“Leah, I’ve been with you most of the night. I know you’re a good person.” The voice was clearly coming from David, but the two continued to ignore him. “Let us go and give us the stone. You can save lives tonight.”
All sorts of numbers and figures were flashing across Beathen’s screens, and Leah was having a hard time trying to keep up. From what she could understand, the stone was actually a core like the one inside Gizmo. “Is that it?” She asked her friend, “It’s a quattour core?”
Looking over at him, Leah found Beathen enraptured by what he was viewing. After a few moments, the skinny mechanic leaned back, clapped, and threw his hands into the air, “It’s not just any core, Leah! It’s the core.”
Confused and bewildered, Leah didn’t know what to make of her friend’s attitude. “Well what does that mean?”
Trying to contain himself, Beathen turned to Leah, “This is an ancient core from the days just before the Mannah. This is from back when they made powerful cores that could hold all the information in the world. Back then, folks made all sorts of machines that were gradually bringing doom to our planet. People got scared and made things that would help them survive, but some of them made things just in case they didn’t. This was right around the start of quattours, before that people only had vehicles like cars and trucks. Automobiles! Like the ones you’ve seen in caravans. They were fast, but they were also some of the machines causing a lot of damage. Quattours were invented to replicate the efficiency of animals while negating the need for harmful machines.”
“To power these new machines,” Beathen continued, “they made cores that drew in sunlight and stored it for centuries. They got so good that some of the later cores could last indefinitely.” His speech suddenly took on an air of wonder as he gazed back at his screens, “This core is a super-advanced one. Little more than a hundred years old. The power it holds…”
Leah glanced at the boys in the cage as Beathen trailed off. All three of them were staring at them, fully engaged in everything the mechanic was saying. “Why aren’t there more of them, Beathen? If these things last forever, then why are we using the crappy cores we are today?”
“Only a handful of them survived. Over the years, I’ve heard rumors of one being on our continent. This is it, Leah. This is the core.” The mechanic pushed himself across the floor in his rolling chair. He came to another computer console and brought up images of bustling cities decades gone. “Bak then, Koster City was called Jacksonville. The place where we live was called Florida. …Before most of it was flooded. The wars between people made that happen, believe it or not. Part of the plan for quattours was to make vehicles that allowed people to move across the water, but all that was halted when the societies ended.”
“Originally,” he began while rising from his chair, “they built intelligence directly into the quattour model. They called this artificial intelligence. The cores they used were only a power source. But someone figured out how to incorporate information storage into the cores. From there, it was only a few simple steps to build full-fledged computers into them. People stopped using quattours with in-built AI systems. They thought they were too hard to control back then.” Beathen approached Gizmo and put a hand on her metallic skull, “With the “brain” in the core, they could just eject the core if they were unhappy with the thing’s behavior. Today’s models are just what you know, shells with removable brain-cores”
“Even though people were making smarter and more efficient machines, the world was still threatened by wars. Portions of the planet were being devastated, and just as the wars were getting to their worst point,” the mechanic hung his head in melancholy wonder, “the world suddenly ended.”
“What?” Leah blurted, “What happened?”
Beathen took a glance at everybody in the shop, then shrugged his tattooed shoulders, “The Mannah fell.”
Special Author’s Note
As the writer, I had been waiting for this chapter for a long time. This is probably the beginning of “Act 3”. A lot of information is packed into this chapter, which raises a lot of questions. I struggled a lot writing this one, hoping to balance the deluge of information without creating a feeling of shameless exposition.
As a reader, I have trouble with wondering how neither Beathen or Leah were more suspicious of Gizmo’s behavior and demeanor. I really don’t know; I feel like I’m too close to the story. I’d love your thoughts on this. Let me know what you think in the comments below.