Yesterday the world had almost ended, and Valle had been there. Now he sat alone in his apartment, waiting for something worse. Outside, his face was one of several being shown on the giant amber screen built into the outer wall, leering uneasily over the populace. All day, the screen had shown the state-produced featurette celebrating fifteen engineers and mechanics who, when an alarm sounded in Pump Station E11, had run to the site of the catastrophic pump failure instead of evacuating. The heroes had selflessly averted disaster by isolating a pump whose couplings had broken loose and was spilling ocean water into the station. They had saved the lives of their coworkers, and billions of globals in damage. Said the company line. In actuality, a few more minutes without intervention, and, the pumps would have failed one after another, and the ocean would have split the walls open with devastating force. The thousands who lived in the city’s lowest levels would have been crushed in hours, more drowned, many more left to await a slow death by disease and deprivation. The structural damage to the city would have ruined the rail hub which the entire city had been founded to service, the one that connected the great domes of America and Eurasia. Vital trade would founder. It might be years before the two cities were reconnected. The ocean would reclaim the tracks. It would have been seen as the terrible hand of Osah, God the Watcher. Reaching to earth to smite not one or two deviants as He did every day, but the millions who lived in Atlantis’s lower reaches. Valle couldn’t know if anything he did had been instrumental in halting the pressure buildup in Pump Room G9. He’d tightened bolts, helped open a flooded service tunnel into which another zoan had crawled. He should have evacuated; it wouldn’t have cost the responders their success. Really, he should never have taken work in the pump station at all. It was too vital, too important, no matter how lowly his position. It was a stupid misstep in the game played on him by his brother. The room was still quiet. Valle rubbed his hands together. The scars along their edges and between his outer two fingers still itched and scabbed, even years after the wing membranes had been removed, much as he worried them. “I know you’re there,” he said into the dark. Though he didn’t. He wouldn’t. Crucis came and went silently. Valle’s tall chiropter ears had never helped even before his hearing had started to give out. “Why do you do this?” Valle demanded. “You always know where I am. Why do you wait?” He pounded the heels of his hands into the bed on which he sat, a useless gesture that would only have amused Crucis, if he saw it. There was no response, though. Valle rubbed his eyes and controlled his breath. Maybe it wouldn’t be tonight. Crucis could have been on the other side of the world when Valle’s name and face had gone up in lights. Even “Osah” couldn’t bring him thousands of miles in one day. Shouting had slowly spread a burning pain up and down Valle’s throat. He fumbled with finger and thumb at the catches on either side of the metal voice box in his throat, released it and drew the cartridge out. With it settled in its cleaning tank, he considered going to bed. Still, he didn’t right away, but sat as he had been for the last hour. The orange spot did not surprise him, when it lit up in the darkness before him. He glared at it, hovering silently, only occasionally bobbing slightly. It disappeared, and was replaced by a scrolling marquee. hello brother hello brother hello brother The orange lights faintly illuminated the face surrounding them. The back of his brother’s leaf nose, the shape of his muzzle and the metallic rim of the visor. With his voice box out, Valle couldn’t say anything back. He only stood slowly and waited, breathing shallowly through the tube that took over for his artificial trachea with the voice box was absent. His brother moved closer. The marquee changed. so proud so proud so proud A simple icon of clapping hands flashed on either side of the visor, where once there had been eyes. Valle wanted to say: Fuck off. The lights came on, revealing his brother against the dingy off- cream of the walls. Crucis had control of everything in the apartment, the same way he could speak through his visor. osah gives me much better than this Fuck Off. Crucis opened his arms wide. They were wings this time; they weren’t always. Where Valle’s sickly membranes had become so prone to infection that they’d eventually been removed entirely, Crucis’s masters could provide him with new ones. let a bat embrace his brother Valle braced his hands, claws ready to deliver some pitiful scratches if the other moved closer. When Crucis closed the distance between them, and the great leather wings moved to wrap around Valle, though, the mechanic didn’t strike. He let his arms fall lax at his sides, lightly pinned by the wings. The embrace was long and still, only the assassin’s even breathing to disrupt it. Until Valle felt the tip of a blade press against his belly. Then two, then three. He pushed away– Crucis didn’t prevent him– and fell back seated on his bed. His brother snickered soundlessly. Five curved mantis-claw blades slipped out from Crucis’s abdomen, flexing tauntingly. One was slick with thick black blood, and Valle realized it had actually gotten him, torn a gash in the artificial flesh of his mirrored abdomen. That tissue was cheap and insensitive, like the synthetic organs behind it. i have a gift Valle, one hand holding the wound closed, jabbed a finger at his brother. He wanted to say, Keep it. Spending his paltry earnings to have his dying larynx replaced, with however low quality of a device, had been the one act of vengeance he could wage against Crucis, whose masters would not give him one. The killer blades parted Crucis’s belly like stage curtains. Normally his empty body cavity housed a number more lethal instruments, but in their place for now were only two metal arms, folded around a simple cardboard package. They extended, and let it drop lightly to the floor. Keep it, Valle mouthed. Don’t you give that to me. Crucis grinned. see you next time see you next time see you next time He leapt explosively into the ceiling, as though taking off. Crackling, dark purple energy, a whirlwind within the apartment, and he was gone. No hole in the ceiling, nothing. Valle sat heavily on his bed, though the impact squeezed a gout of synthetic blood through his fingers and onto the sheets. Next time. He had thought the bottom of Atlantis would be the safest he could get from Crucis. Obviously he had been wrong. He was so tired. He stared at the package on the floor for a long time. It was heavy, the global bills inside would account for no small sum. Osah money. He dragged it back under his bed with his heel, and buried his eyes in his hands. It would’ve been better if the world had ended, after all.
In the distant future, the world is flooded, and humanoid-animal hybrids created in laboratories to be a work force live among the humans, facing the breakdown of their artificial genes. A secret police force masquerades under the guise of a vengeful deity.
Valle, twin brother of its chief assassin, has spent his life hiding from his brother, but circumstances threaten to make a confrontation inevitable, while greater threats linger on the horizon.
This is a rough draft of a short novel based on some planning I did many years ago but never continued until now.
No sexual content, but a few scenes of violence and some body horror throughout.