My name is Artemis Butler.
And I am very, very tired.
I find it hard to complain at times like this; I hadn’t been directly involved in the fighting. The 9th South Central Infantry Battalion had fought the screamers for hours and taken heavy losses in the process. They’d need to be merged with another battalion sooner rather than later. The 16th might be a good choice; one of their companies had been nearly annihilated in the biter attack on Saturday.
I hadn’t fought. I couldn’t fight. My body was too weak. I had a number of incurable degenerative muscle and bone disorders that had kept me bed-ridden most of my childhood, until I was surgically implanted with steel and titanium bone reinforcements. Even with that, normally at my age I would be long dead. But the toy maker could hold even the worst diseases at bay. For most with similar conditions in Domina City, there was a simple monthly procedure to let them live a normal life. Expensive, yes, but well worth the cost.
But I was lutum informis, ‘the unformed clay.’ I was resistant to the toy maker. Irony of ironies.
I received weekly treatments, but my body was still frail. I could stand, I could walk, I could even run if I really had to. But I couldn’t fight. It just wasn’t possible.
My phone rang in my pocket, five simple beeps. I clicked the desktop terminal, which also put it on speaker. It was just easier that way.
“Yes, Mary? What is it?”
Her simple program responded quickly and smoothly. “Senator McDowell is on the line. Would you like me to patch him through?”
“Yes, thank you.” I switched on my monitor as well; the senators almost always used video calls.
Evangel’s face appeared on my screen within seconds. As usual, his black and white fur was carefully groomed, and his teeth brushed til they shone. His blue eyes, however, had lost some of that gleam I had grown to expect from him. He was tired too.
The ursa anthros were still a little odd; most of the other kemos were obviously human, albeit in animal skins. But ursas looked like nothing so much as bears lumbering around on their hind legs. I suppose that was the point, but it was a bit disconcerting.
“Senator,” I said with a smile. The melano and I might not be friends, precisely, but I found his debates intelligent and well-reasoned. “You look tired. I take it the screamers woke you?” I frowned as I realized the full implications. “Actually, don’t you live in that area?”
“Yes,” he replied tiredly. “I’ve been fighting with your troops since this all started.”
Men and monsters. I bit back a curse and kept my face passive with decades of practice. This was either good, or very very bad.
“I trust they were more than competent,” I said smoothly.
He grinned toothily. It looked a bit crazed. Lord, he needed sleep more than I did. “That’s a pretty apt description, actually. More than competent.” He shook his head. “And those Paladins…I don’t know where you found them, but well done.”
“Luck,” I admitted. “Nothing more. But I’m guessing you didn’t just call to praise my new troops.” While he had done that before, he had always waited until he had rested. No, this was something else.
He nodded. “Indeed. First, it’s about the captured screamers. I believe in addition to the burners, you still have a biter?”
“Yes. And our tests are inconclusive. We tested on a few volunteers, and preliminary assumptions were correct: They are still contagious. Killing the singers hasn’t seemed to change anything.”
“On that note, what about Loga? He hasn’t reverted, has he?”
“Oh, far from it. In fact, as far as we can tell, he’s exactly the same as the Paladins now.”
The big melano blinked. “Really?”
I nodded. “Yes, he’s immune to infection, and he has a power—pyrokinesis, in his case. I don’t think we have to worry about him reverting any time soon.” I sighed. “The bad news is we still don’t know why he was cured when his singer was killed, and no one else was. The only logical explanation we have at the moment is that its because he was only infected for a few moments.”
“Which would mean the others are incurable,” the senator muttered. He frowned. “You’re not going to make him a Paladin, are you?”
“Of course not. He’s far too young. He might be useful as an early warning system, since he can hear the screamers as well, but we’re not sending him into combat.”
Evangel nodded in agreement and steepled his claws in front of him, thinking. “What I’m more worried about,” he said slowly. “Is that the singers were apparently seeking a fey.”
“They didn’t find her,” I pointed out.
“Yes, but the fact that they thought to look indicates an intelligence behind these attacks.” We had assumed that for quite some time, of course, but this was unshakeable proof. “Zombies are a nuisance, Mister Butler. If they have something pulling their strings…”
“I am well aware of the problems this presents, Senator,” I said quietly. “And I promise you we are doing everything in our power to find this perpetrator and stop him.” I smiled. “But for now, I have work to do, and you need to go to sleep. You’ve earned it.”
He just chuckled. “I didn’t do much, but I’ll admit that I need it. I pray for your continued success.” He hung up, and my monitor switched back to the desktop.
I sighed and sat back in my chair. So tired. But I had to stay up. Had to coordinate rebuilding efforts in the damaged district, console the populace, make sure Isaac wasn’t getting too caught up in his experiments…
I got up out of my chair and headed towards the door, leaning heavily on my cane.
It was necessary.
Behind the Scenes (scene 19)
Butler has always had problems delegating.
Extra update Wednesday, as apologies for the super-short one.