The principality of Mitel sat beneath a huge chlorophyllic dome. The glass was opaque, but it let in more light than many other places in the Einz territories, extracting energy from sunlight. It served as an arboretum of sorts, too, with long stretches of carefully regimented farmland, intercut with oxygen pillars that, in both design and function, were essentially autumnal looking trees. Except they were machines used to regulate oxygen quality and, when needed, also doubled as surveillance towers.

Mitel was mainly home to farmers, and they were tasked with its maintenance. But, because of the large swathes of space, richer families also had dwellings among its carefully crafted hills and valleys–where the workers did not go, of course.

In them Amberth valley, just suitably far away from the nautilus rail network that connected Mitel to central Undine so as not to cause noise pollution, but close enough so as not to be a nuisance, there sat an enclosed mansion whose fence was once made of painted wood, but now was made of people. Or, to be more exact, Moons.

Their onion skin bodies, their visible metal spines, their unmoved faces, all said one thing: they were not human. Yet, they were human enough that these terrible features sparked fear and dread for their not-quite-ness. And that was before you got to the network of tentacles that lived bundled at their back waiting to extrude, to tangle, to catch–to kill.

“They’re just…standing there,” Jack said from his window at the highest point in the house, the attic, looking down on the Moons. Jack and Lee been there nearly a full day now, and Jack was beginning to grow restless. “You getting anything yet?”

“No,” Lee said from his place on the wooden bed.

“I don’t get it. Ain’t nothing you can’t hack.”

“Well…” Lee held up his hands. “They’re blank to me. I mean I know they’re augmented, I can feel it, but whatever tech the Einz are using, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. If I had my gear, my terminals, the hospital servers, maybe I could…but without it I’m flying blind.”

Jack had shut off the harsh lights piped into the wooden room, so they were in a semi-dull space where neither of them could quite see the other clearly. He used his hands to steady himself as he hopped over to his desk. He’d taken his augmented leg off. Figured if they weren’t going anywhere then he might as well give himself some comfort. It sat next to Lee on the bed, and it was then that Jack realised how truly comfortable he had become with Lee. Since losing his leg and having his prosthetic fitted, no one else had seen him without it–not even in battle.

“Those things came out of no where,” Jack said. “And that light. How many of them do you think were on that ship?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t read any life-signs.” Lee looked to Jack. “Without data I’m useless,” he added.

“If they all can do that, use that pulse thing to immobilize us…” Jack whetted his lips. He grunted. “We’re royally buggered, ain’t we?”

It took a while, but Jack saw it happening. Saw Lee gathering his strength. Those little flicks of his eye lashes, the subtle rub of his fingers. “No,” Lee said. “I can crack this.” He got up and went to the window. “I can crack them.”

A great inhalation, and Lee looked like he was about to start something when:

“Since you refuse to eat with me downstairs, I’ve brought you food,” Jack’s mother, Nargena, said. She stood in the doorway wearing her trademark white suit, her platinum set hair looking white hot in the light of the hallway. “Oh goodness, Jack, you still have that obsession with the lights. I can barely see you two.”

She placed the tray down on the desk.

“Where’s your…?” She looked down at his missing leg. “Some things have changed for you.”

“And you.” Jack pointed his thumb out the window. “The entourage?”

“Ah yes. I have been meaning to tell you, Viscount Feln and I are getting married.”

“So you had to kidnap your guests and hold them prisoner?” Jack asked. Lee looked over at him with mild shock. Apparently, Lee hadn’t realised Jack had a smart mouth too.

“Only the ones planning a revolution. Now, it’s a week away so I’ll need you to wear a suit.”

“I’m not going to your stinking wedding,” Jack said, and he reached over and pushed the tray off the desk. The plates of mushy food clattered to the floor but did not break. Good quality can mean longevity, but always at a price.

Nargena looked from the plates to Jack. Then her gaze slid to Lee. “I think you will be,” she said. The smile never left her lips. “Of course marriage is a contractual business, and this is an excellent exchange. The Viscount is very well connected, as the security outside attests, and he is almost inhumanly stupid.”

“Heartwarming,” Lee commented.

“Yes,” she answered without missing a beat. “Now if you want to continue sulking up here that’s absolutely fine but I won’t have you throwing food on the floor. Clear it up or you won’t be eating. Do I make myself clear?”

“I suggest you don’t bring knives up here no more,” Jack said, and he kicked one such utensil toward her.

“Oh, fun,” Nargena said, and closed the door.

“Have you ever wondered,” Lee said after a few seconds, “if she’s just a little bit–”

“Completely shitting insane? Yes. But she ain’t.”

Jack bent at the waist and started scraping up the foodstuffs stuck in the grain of the floor. “She knows exactly what she’s doing, and exactly why she’s doing it. Ever since Dad…” The quiet came fast, stole his words. It took a while to get them back. “She got worse after. Colder.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry don’t help us.” Jack shrugged. “If we can’t get out of here fast…no way of finishing the plan without you at the smog units.”

Lee nodded. “Where’s your central computer room in this house?”

Jack cocked a wiry eyebrow. “Next to ma’s library. Why?”

“If I can’t read them,” Lee said looking out the window at the Moons. “I’m wondering if I can get one of them to come read me.”

“That’s dangerous.”

“Not if you’re there.” He reached forward and put a hand to Jack’s face. Comfort. Warmth. Perhaps a little coercion. “It is dangerous, definitely, but I do have one trick left to try.”



DAY 16>>>