The sibriex only had a single building to our name: Arhestanots, the Fleshworks. It’s right at the edge of South Middle, only a few blocks from both South-West Middle and South Central. It was pretty far from the domain of any other culture, which was a good thing. We might like playing with the toy maker, but that didn’t mean we were soldiers.
Arhestanots was a small skyscraper, only thirty stories. Our most sensitive data was secured on floor twenty-five, a floor without windows or any entrance except for one closely-watched door.
It was disturbing, really, how easy it was to break in. Obviously, I had an easier time than most due to my membership, but I had still managed to hack my way into our data center with nothing but a pad and some off-the-shelf virus programs. I couldn’t help but think it would have been much more difficult if we had even a single guard physically watching the door.
But I suppose it was a good thing it was so easy. It was Friday night. It was my last chance to steal the Helix for the Queen of Loveless, and the fey were not known for their leniency. And if there had been a guard…I don’t know what I would have done.
And I don’t want to know.
This wasn’t the first time I had done something stupid for my sister, but usually it was small things. Stealing candy when we were kids, that sort of thing. Not treason.
Well, it was too late to back out now.
I crept through the rows of servers, my breath creating little puffs of fog in front of my face. It wasn’t actually freezing, but it was pretty damn close, in order to keep the servers as cool as possible. I had never been here before, but I knew the layout well enough. Even a low-ranked member like myself had access to the blueprints.
When I reached the center of the room, however, I found out that not everything is on the blueprints.
There was…something in front of me. It was hard to tell in the dark, but nestled between three servers creating an open-faced box was a mass of pink flesh ten feet high and about five wide. It was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and smelled terrible—at least the cold dulled it a bit. Sparse hair sprouted here and there, mostly on the thing’s rounded top, which was far too lumpy and misshapen to be called a head. The mound of flesh shrank back as I watched, then expanded again, then shrank back…
It was breathing. It was alive.
Then it’s eyes snapped open, and I jumped about three feet.
They were located almost dead-center in its chest, and as big as golf balls. They were a harsh silver, matching the fog and mist of the server room, and positioned just over what I now realized was a closed mouth.
Then the mouth opened, revealing a too-large tongue and broken, twisted teeth.
“Sibriex?” the mouth asked, in a deep, rumbling male voice.
I opened my mouth to speak…then closed it again. I couldn’t find the words.
“SIBRIEX?” the creature asked again, punctuating its demand with a turret that collapsed out of the ceiling and pointed itself at me.
“Yes!” I said, finally finding my wits. “Yes, yes, I am a sibriex.”
There was a long rush of air, which I slowly realized was a sigh.
“Never get to shoot anything,” the creature muttered. Then its eyes fixed on me again. “Password?”
I swallowed. “I’m sorry?”
“Password,” it repeated, and the turret whirred as it prepared to fire. “Any real sibriex would know the password.”
“I’m new!” I insisted. “I don’t know any password!”
“It is the fourth thing sibriex are taught, imposter,” the fleshy beast hissed. “You would have learned it on your very first day.”
I blinked. Wait, the fourth thing I had been taught was…
“Never leave an experiment unattended, no matter how harmless it seems?”
That rush of air again, and the turret withdrew. “Correct.” He grumbled to himself. “Never get to shoot anything…”
“Uh, right,” I said a little anxiously. “Wh-who are you, exactly?” I had been about to say what, but had a feeling that wouldn’t have gone over too well.
The mouth laughed, spewing some fluid I didn’t want to identify all over my black sweatpants and sweater. “They still haven’t told you?” The mound of flesh quivered with amusement. “Narek said they were keeping me hidden, but I didn’t think he meant from our own culture.”
I blinked. Narek Nhang was the sibriex warlord…well, I use ‘warlord’ a bit loosely. More like CEO. He was far more interested in experimenting with the toy maker than politics and violence. Then again, that described most sibriex pretty well.
“I…don’t understand why he would hide you,” I said slowly. “From anyone, not just us.”
There was a long, long pause.
The fluid on my clothes slowly began to drip onto the floor.
“Frozen hells,” the creature finally muttered. “You’re serious. Are you an idiot?”
I frowned. “No need to be rude. I just don’t get it. However you were made, you’re clearly an impressive use of the toy maker. Why wouldn’t he want to show you off?”
“You kids have skewed priorities,” he grumbled. He was speaking easier now. I wondered if that was because he hadn’t spoken in so long and needed to warm up first, or if he had just been faking before. “What do you think the Servants would do if they discovered me?”
The Servants were…hard to categorize. Based in the Cathedral, they were the closest thing Domina City had to an organized religion. Sure, we had a few churches here and there to every major religion and quite a few minor ones, but none of them had really taken root. The Servants had grown from the city itself, and thus had a much stronger following. Even though most people thought their beliefs were a bit weird, they were highly respected for their humanitarian efforts.
But what would they do if they found a creature like this?
“Probably nothing, actually,” I said slowly. They just weren’t hostile in general. “I’m not sure why you’d think otherwise. Besides, they have a lot more on their plate than worrying about one slightly creepy experiment.”
The creature laughed again. “It’s cute that you think that. Haven’t you ever wondered—wait. What’s on their plate right now?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Well, they’re pretty involved with cleaning up after the screamers. They don’t really have time for much else.”
The mound of flesh shivered. “Screamers? That a new subculture or something?”
I blinked. Huh. “When’s the last time you talked to someone, or checked Fundie or anything?”
His eyes closed. “Ahh…not sure. Six months for the internet…about a month since I saw an actual person.” The mound of flesh quivered. “But that’s not so strange. I mostly just keep an eye on our servers here.”
I rubbed my hair back. “Right…I’m guessing you stay off the internet to stay out of MC’s sight.”
“Exactly,” he confirmed. “I don’t know what she’d do to me, and don’t particularly want to find out. However,” his tone turned serious again. “You’re avoiding the subject. What are these screamers you mentioned? Last I heard the Rahabs were the only gang that was still giving Necessarius trouble.”
I closed my eyes. “Superpowered zombies.”
He chuckled. “No, really.”
“Really,” I replied seriously. “I figured you wouldn’t believe me, but its the truth.”
“Uh-huh,” he deadpanned. “I’m sure—” He stopped talking suddenly. “That’s odd.”
“My scans indicate you’re telling the truth. That’s very…odd.” He quivered again. “Do me a favor—see that loose cable behind you?” I searched behind me and found an inch-thick cable next to a nearby server. “Yeah, that’s the one. Hook it up to that port there, would you?”
I did as the creature suggested, and heard the hum of another machine powering up. “That your internet connection?”
“Yeah…” he muttered, his eyes distant. He licked his…I’d like to say lips, but he didn’t really have them. He licked the area around his mouth with a too-long tongue. “One second, I’m just gonna—”
He stopped. Dead.
Crap, had I killed him? “Uh…dude? You alive?”
He gurgled wetly. I couldn’t tell if that was a confirmation or one last death throe.
“I’m gonna go find help,” I promised. Hell if I knew what I’d tell anyone to explain my presence, but I’d think of something.
But just before I ran off, he recovered. “No, no, I’m fine. Just…” He swore in a language I didn’t recognize. “Dzhokhk…need a minute to digest all this.”
I could relate. The entire city was still reeling a bit. Between the biters, the burners, the bats and the bleeders…it was a lot to take in.
He spoke up sooner than I expected. “Has anyone been able to determine where these powers come from? What they are, how they work?”
I shrugged. “By now, you probably know more than I do. All I know is that Doctor Clarke is working around the clock to figure that out, but he hasn’t reported any results.”
“I need to talk to MC,” he muttered. “Wonderful.”
“Uh, didn’t you just say—”
“Let me rephrase that: You need to talk to MC for me.”
I blinked. “Wait, how’s that work?”
“We’ll set up an anonymous server that I can look at. I might not be as good as her, but I can at least make sure she can’t detect me. Then, you ask her questions.” He grinned with that mouth too-full of teeth. “Simple.”
“That’s not what I meant. Why me? Surely there’s someone else better suited.”
He grunted in annoyance. “Did you miss the part where I haven’t seen anyone in a month? Nhang and I aren’t on good terms.” He quivered. “No, you’ll have to do. Tell me your e-mail address, and we can get down to business.”
I opened my mouth to complain—then quickly shut it again as a thought occurred to me. I could use him. He’d realize I was using him, of course, but this was still the perfect opportunity.
“I’ll do that,” I said slowly. “But first you have to do something for me.”
There was a short pause.
“This is the part where you tell me,” he said after a moment, annoyed.
I winced. Not the best start. “Right. I need a copy of our Helix. Without there being any trace it was copied.”
He licked his teeth. “Hm…simple enough. Of course there’s always the risk…I assume you have a flash drive ready?”
I almost said yes, but thought better of it. “No. I don’t have any with the spare space.”
“Good,” he said, quivering in what I thought was a nod. “I half expected you to try and upload a virus.”
That was my worry too, actually. I could imagine plenty of reasons the Queen of Loveless would want the record of the sibriexs’ experiments—but I could think of many more reasons why she would want the creature that kept an eye on our servers dead or incapacitated in some way.
One of the servers that made up his little nest spat out a flash drive, which I retrieved carefully.
“That has everything you need,” he promised. “Check it, if you like.”
I did, plugging it into my pad and scanning through it quickly. It was just text, which I was thankful for. My programming skills were sub-par, but it was harder to hide things in a pure text file. A quick glance was enough to tell me that it at least seemed in order.
I removed the drive, pocketed it, and bowed deeply. “Thank you very much. I look forward to working with you.”
“And now for your end,” he prompted. “Your screen name?”
“Obyrith576,” I replied without hesitation. “Spelled the normal way.”
“Hm, good,” he muttered. “Found it.” His eyes darted up to my face. “When’s the last time you updated your picture?”
I winced. Long before I got my skin and hair cosmos, that was for sure. “Maybe…a year?”
He rolled his eyes. “Well, this is clearly you. I’ll contact you soon and give you instructions for the interview.” His tone had a sense of finality to it, and I knew it was time to go.
But before I did, a thought occurred to me, and I turned back to him. “What’s your name, anyhow? You never said.”
He grinned, too many teeth shining in the dim lights of the servers. “Aramazd.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 59)
This took much longer than it had any right to.