Serenades, chapter 4

Deviation Actions

Literature Text

four: i wish i could be with you
“It seems that conspiracies are beginning to unravel,” Nostrianus told me. “Lepidus’ meeting last week was an arrangement to meet with Walafar.”
“Him,” Ava said, her eyes narrowing further.
“If you would like, I could show you these correspondences for yourself.”
“Yes, do tell me.”
“Hacking into the account was simple, just a matter of digging up some personal information, I changed the password to swordfish so you can see for yourself. It’s next week, in hard-to-reach parts of the city for secrecy. He obviously doesn’t want anyone to know about this. If word were to get out, it could bring down the regime.”
“I think I want more than that,” she said.

“The leaves are starting to turn, you know. Is there a park around here?” I asked Ava.
“Yeah, all along the river. There’s Riverside Park right there,” she pointed at a red station, and it goes down that way to here,” she pointed at the green one, “and I’m not allowed there. So we’d have to walk back. Do you still want to?” She put on a knit wool sweater over her white top and black skirt, tied a thin black scarf that seemed more decorative than practical around her neck.
“Yeah, you really should take your mind off of everything and just walk around and watch the leaves fall. You’re really tense.”
There were no trees at all around here, just moss and grass growing in alleys and sidewalk cracks. In the parks and richer sections of the cities, the trees were turning red and orange and yellow, underneath wisps and cotton fluff in blue skies.

“Nostrianus will supply us with what we need to assassinate Walafar.” Paschasia said, avoiding euphemisms. In response, Nostrianus placed several weapons and pieces of armor on the table.
“Our armors are hidden in a water purification plant on the outskirts of the city. From there, you will be able to enter the city’s sewer system and tunnel network.”

A maintenance monorail took us over the river and to the purification plant. We crossed rusting and sagging metal catwalks over filthy rapids and yellowed concrete, lit by red lights in wireframe cages or by a fading sun in a watery teal sky. There were words and arrows and symbols scrawled in phosphorescent orange paint, broken up by cracks and clusters of chemicals left behind when the water evaporated.

“Isn’t there any way around this?” Ava looked down at the water.
“I thought you didn’t have trouble with swimming,” I said.
“Not in this crapola. It’s too deep and I don’t want to be all freezing and skudgy. Anyway, yes, I’ve been here before, but it’s been three years, and I got here from a different passage.”
“Why?” I asked her.
“I’ll talk about it some other time.”

Paschasia took a suit of armor like a small black cataphract. The armor’s surface was decorated with a glassy material that glowed in phosphorescent colors. Two spots of undulating pink projected a shield around her.
“What about you?” I asked Ava.
“Yeah. I’m wearing this.” She put a resin breastplate over an old set of dark blue khaki workers’ coveralls, wrapped a thick scarf around her face, put on a pair of thick gloves. “I can’t climb up these shafts in armor. What I need to do is get in safely and shut down security long enough for Paschasia to get in. I got the coveralls from a sympathetic worker.”
“Well, be careful,” I said.
“I wish I could be with you. I hated Walafar for what he did to us. And it isn’t like he hated us, either. He was just indifferent, personally, but he knew we’d make an easy target for repression. We were nothing to him, and somehow, that pisses me off even more. I hate him more than I hate Sadegh Husayni. At least he was sincere with his anti-Khorasani and anti-Semitic beliefs.”
“Why aren’t you coming with me? You said you went below the city.”
“I couldn’t make it past the garbage pits. It was the workers’ quarters I was exploring, and I had to go through this really long tunnel for Green that goes under the poor and minority parts, and you could be smashed by a train without anyone noticing for years. Besides, they need me up there more than you need me down there.”

I had a suit of chameleon armor on, not a modified cataphract or golem but an imported armor. It was surprisingly lightweight and flexible.
“You look like a cosmonaut,” Ava said.
I removed my helmet. “A what?” I asked her. “You had a nightmare with something like this?”
“No, I mean like, they went into space a long time ago. In Ain Sifna, there’s a museum of old projector films. One day, I’ll show it to you. There are strange things, like one that’s upside down and in some weird proto-Yunanese. Ultraviolent shock films, and one of those had oversaturated colors and weird distortion. It was kind of repulsive, but I couldn’t stop watching either, except for one of them where a bald guy cuts the throat of a cyclops woman while she’s taking a bath and then I had to stop because I was so sickened. And, oh there was one where a robot with a human head and arm cuts a woman up. A surrealistic alien invasion, but I think that was made about twenty years ago. I saw one with a war between resurrected cloned Germani conducators, but that was kind of recent too, and I remember when the Theosophical Society and the Church of Esoterical Fascism made a huge stink about it. One with two therianthropes grunting at each other and a squid monkey thing and a guy in a bee suit presiding over a trial.”
I wondered if the surrealistic alien invasion had anything to do with the book Marciana told me about.
“Why would they make a stink?”
“Why would they indeed? Their followers make the same mistakes because they’re stupid. I remember someone specifically wanted to emulate him and shattered his country into tiny fragments. Maybe it was politics, or maybe they were just offended because it had music in it or some nonsense like that. Hey, I’m sorry to ramble on like this. I guess I’m just kind of afraid this will be our last time together. There’s just so much I want to say to you.”
“I am too,” I said, but she had already started to scale the shaft.

Ava found herself in a garbage pit filled with damaged equipment and corroding, useless worker mechs and robots.
She stumbled out of a gap in the hexagonal grate and into a hallway for maintenance personnel. Inset lamps in the wall and grate blinked red, yellow, green, and blue. Three floors up, she saw watery light from over a pile of rusted machinery parts. She climbed it and looked out to the desolate valley, pools of rainwater in chemical colors that corroded the naked rock into ravines, and the city across the river.

She sat atop the slagheap and watched the amaranth bowl of the sky deepen into indigo, the lights of the cityscape coming on in white and red, distant enough to look like stars. Paschasia arrived, walking along a road etched in the dunescape. “How was getting here?” she asked Ava.
“It was easy. I’d say it was too easy. You know, I wish I had my guitar or sitar with me, and maybe if I could cobble something out of this garbage to add reverberation. Just looking at all this desolation.”
“It inspires you?” Paschasia asked.
“Do you think something’s amiss?”
“Yeah. Can I ask something? Do you really turn anyone caught breaking the rules to the authorities?”
“Of course not; it’s just to scare peope into not committing atrocities. If we did, they’d send the Siguranta to replace them.”

I went down the elevator, a crude capsule of metal framework, wire mesh and cold lights. Three tones and a recorded message told me below levels were restricted. The lamps went from green like the pale glow of phosphorous to lurid red. The elevator stopped.
“I can’t get to the bottom level from here. Did that program Paschasia wrote fail to work?”
“No, it works fine. But I checked some security footage. There are armed men down there and I don’t think you could take them on yourself. You’ll have to go through the garbage disposal area. Be thankful you won’t be able to smell anything,” Ava said, over the high radio warbling and low incomprehensible voices interrupted by bursts of crackling static of my communication device and the hum of the elevator.
I pushed open the door, trudged down the steps, and stood in what would be an ankle-deep morass of detritus and organic sludge, bones and rotting meat and fruit, with the occasional discarded machine, desiccated animal that may have gotten lost or may have been living here for generations. The walls were made of rough-hewn cement blocks the color of stale urine. Water dripped from countless holes in the rusted pipes, accumulated in streams. Steam hissed out of square holes in the walls. Lamps flickered and rained a spume of sparks.
“I’m going to cut power now. That means I can’t tell where you are. Don’t worry, you have equipment to see in the dark.”

There were larger chambers in the garbage area, built out of existing limestone caverns, where ghouls and garbage robots rummaged amongst years and years of trash, cast in sickly green from inset maintenace lamps A large and pale vermian creature, with black chitinous legs, and glossy purulent eyes, came near me, jawpieces dripping an opalescent fluid that quickly coagulated in the air. I kicked it, its carapace shattered and its body dripped a pale ichor.

A sign warned that the tunnels below here were declared condemned by the Tarentum Department of Sanitation, some graffiti next to it warned of attack orangutans. I smiled, amused that someone would risk the awful smells and wading through that sludge to write that and ignoring the warning, went down a series of cargo escalators, currently unoperational and lit only by crimson emergency lighting inset in the walls and steps.
The lowest tunnels below tunnels were naked rock or concrete walls, the monotony of them broken by graffiti by people brave and stupid enough to risk the creatures, chemicals and crumbling architecture and leave a mark of their presence where nobody would see it for decades, if ever. Cables snaked across the ceiling, out through square holes. Water dripped out, mixed with chemicals, forming toxic puddles on the hexagonal ceramic tile floor.
“Doesn’t look like much,” someone in a golem armor said to me. There were few signs of occupancy among rusted barrels and shelves with a foul-smelling and unreadable pulpy mush that was paper once upon a time. A long chair with two of its legs broken off was on its side in the corner. A huge metal door, dulled by a patina, looked out of place amongst the crude decor of the room. The light on the door went from red to green. Machinery clicked from within. From a distance, a train rumbled by.
‘transmission on channel 3’ appeared, and I switched from listening to the outside world to transmissions from elsewhere.
“Hello?” came a familiar lilt amongst alien warblings and bursts of static. “Hello? Paschasia and I disabled the security locks. You can get in now. Good luck. I hope to see you again. Oh, fuck, there are more of these things, bye, my love.” I heard the staccato of a machine pistol.
“Ava? Ava, are you there? I’m at the entrance.”

Ava ducked behind the wall and Paschasia launched a salvo of blue pulses at a formation of aerial drones that dove from above. Most of them exploded in midair, a few of them crash landed on the tiled floor.
“Are there any behind us?” Paschasia asked.
“Yes.” Ava fired a spurt of bullets from a machine pistol she stole into a triad of drones.
“I swear I didn’t know.”
“No sweat, Paschasia. You have to expect some kind of resistance in a place like this.”
“I’m going to attempt to upload the program. I hope the passwords I have are still valid.”
“How long has it been since Lepidus purged the police department? Seven, eight years?”
“Something like that.”
“I admired you for protecting the rights of everyone instead of just the rights of National voters.” Ava smiled and Paschasia smiled back.

On the other side of the door was a wet and gloomy brick tunnel, which snaked into a large, flooded utility room painted an institutional gray. Bits of wood floated on the surface of the water, which appeared to be covered with a film of oil.
“Do not move,” from behind us, in unflawed and unhesitant Selinian, broken only by the incessant warbling of my communication device and a brief spurt of electricity. I had all channels open, outside at full volume, Ava at 75%, and the rest of the people with me at 60%. Four golems approached us, their laser sights glowing like eyes in the darkness. I stood against the wall, the armor’s colors changing to match the grimy brick and torpid water. Maybe the distortion and lensing was too noticeable in daylight, but in the darkness, I was at the advantage.
The message ‘activate armor field’ appeared. I selected ‘yes.’
The enemy golems parted to allow a triad of cataphracts in. One was larger than the others, and had a construct covering the compact reactor on its back and sticking out like wings, and two pulse cannons mounted on its pauldrons, and held a black staff with a flanged head, and a beam cannon in the other.
In response, we fired our lances and chainguns. The other people responded with the same. I created a second node at the power source of one of the cataphracts, and a whip of lightning cracked between them, and the power source exploded in a storm of green sparks. Ten floating drones rose out of the construct on the largest cataphract’s back and flew at us. Chaingun fire took out four of them before their lances activated, lines of coherent red that crossed together, destroying two golems and disabling the power source of another.
A mage arrived, a tall, lanky man with a partially shaven head, an apparatus on his face to protect him from the undercity’s stench. Lightning danced around him and gathered in his fist, and a pillar of electricity burst from the floor and struck the golem next to me.
My faceplate read ‘etheric jamming field activated. armor at 65%’
The golem kneeled, electricity coursing across its steel armor, and fell face-first into the ground, shattering the faceplate and lacerating its pilot’s face. Blood mixed with mud. Lines of red light lit up the largest cataphract’s staff.
“Heng’s dead. We must retreat,” someone, Noreaksey or Mehmet. A consistently changing pattern of scarlet eddies and granules of light appeared on the cataphract’s staff. I disabled the armor field and focused power on generating a prismatic shield instead.
“How? We’re surrounded.”
I tuned to Ava’s channel. “Can you lock the door?” It was a desperate move, to prevent any more golems or cataphracts from coming in.
“I don’t understand why...”
I interrupted her. “Ava, lock the fucking door!”
“Ok, ok, I’m on it. No need to flip out on me like that.”
“Don’t worry, I still love you.”
“Uh, thanks.” I imagined her smiling at the other end. The faceplace’s display read ‘downloading map.’
The cataphract swung the staff at the disabled golem, the head trailing luminous mist, smashing the head and part of the upper body, a red slurry with shattered bone fragments and bits of metal and glass bubbling out. The rattling of chaingun fire followed.
‘Armor at 45%.’ Something hit me, I realized. I was worried about the compact reactor on my back.
“Noreaksey, are you well?” I asked the man in golem armor behind me, receiving only static and silence. I pushed it in front of me, and fired my lance at the cataphract, slicing down the center. The other golems retreated, firing chainguns and beams, also using disabled golems, both our own and enemy, as shields.
‘Chromatophores damaged and unusable.’
I turned on channel five. “The wall over there is structurally weak,” I said, checking the map Ava sent me.
“Too close range for missiles.”
“I know. Use the chaingun.”
“I don’t know what’s on the other side.”
“It’s sure as hell better what we have on this side. Are you going to follow, Varin?”
I shedded my armor, my nose assailed with industrial scents, decomposition, uninsulated power cables. The air down here was wet and dank and had an unpleasant organic scent to it, tinged with cloying sweetness. I ran into a more claustrophobic tunnel, a cold and misty labyrinth of stairways, water filthy with effluents, and rusted pipes, into which no golems could follow. After the sounds of battle abated and the victors left, I was alone with the sound of wind whistling through the corridors, flowing and dripping water, the chittering of rats, distant furnaces and iron doors slamming shut. I couldn’t tell if I was being followed or not. There was an abandoned access shaft with stairs that were nearly rusted away. I climbed my way up, using precarious footholds above calliginous sludge-filled depths. From somewhere, a train passed by, with a distant roar and the clank of bells.
I followed cement tunnels with floors of stone tiles covered with water and oxidized iron, leading to the subbasement of some building that looked to be abandoned. Ovens, boilers, other machines, waterlogged and slightly charred metal cabinets filled with ashes, were left behind. Somebody went through a lot of effort to destroy everything before leaving. While moving furniture to make a barricade in front of the door, I noticed a heavy steel door with “Biohazard. Do not enter.” I’ve ignored so many signs here, I figured I’ll ignore one more.
There were vitrines and shelves painted a sterile sea green, a sprinkling of azure mold, cluttered with jars with strange creatures or bits of strange creatures floating in yellowed formaldehyde. I saw only glimpses of gray tiles under strata of rotting papers and scintillae of glass. I picked up a jar labeled “shudkher- embryonic form,” in faded print and stared at it intently, within was a lacertine, yet humanoid thing, with a white patch of skin where the eye would be. Another shudkher embryo was lacerated and its face was ripped off, exposing yellowed bone. Yet another dangling from the lid by its arm was missing half of its body, a twisted mess of maroon viscera and protoplasm drifting slowly outwards and slowly apart, rubber tubes sticking in its skin. All of them were orbited by flakes and chunks of flesh that crumbled off and floated in the blood-tinted fluid.
I moved on to another shelf, which contained jars with more creatures. A large glass and wood box contained a full grown bonefish, while another one held a long, oarlike zaj with crumbling feathery appendages on its head. A few were so decayed I could no longer tell what they were, mantles of fleshy white petals and sky blue eyes, mouths lined with tiny teeth. A vial of blood with rubber tubing and a needle at the end sat on top. Other cabinets held empty retorts, alembics, and wormstills, many smashed, and more jars marked with “adipose tissue,” “vitreous humor,” “aqueous humor,” “marrow,” “blood,” “adipocere,” and “bile.” The drawers held slides with samples of cells.
There was another tiled room room with refrigerated cells. Whatever that was held in there was gone, removed or rotted away. A ceramic basin had a stream of some green substance, surrounded by rust and a red stain near the drain. A side chamber was filled with mountains of broken glass bottles. I declined to go in there.
I picked up a smaller aludel with a tentacled creature within. Something banged outside, and I dropped the aludel. It shattered, and liquid puddled on the floor. The pungent scent wafted through the room. I heard another knock.
I risked the noise of toppling over the cabinets and machines and climbing a metal staircase leading to another level of basement. The stairs were heavily rusted and I had to take care to keep them from collapsing on me. Good. If there was still a way for cataphracts or golems to get down here, they couldn’t continue to follow me. I thought about deliberately destroying the staircase, but didn’t know if this was the way out.

Paschasia went over to an inset machine in the black marble wall of the atrium. An aura of red light emanated from the polymer glass parts of the armor and flowed over the rest. It turned yellow, then green, then blue, then violet.
“What are you doing?” Ava asked her.
“Just repairing the shields and armor,” Paschasia responded.
“It’s not that I’m worried about...”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that.” Ava gestured to a maniple of Selinian soldiers, including a mage in bone white.
“Hold it, those coveralls look kind of loose. And I can’t see your damn face. Just who are you? You can’t be an actual worker. What’s that armor for?” Neither Paschasia nor Ava said anything in response. “Wait? Paschasia? I thought they kicked you off the force. What are you doing here? Had I known your so-called insurgent group was this pathetic, I’d have dealt with you myself.” The captain turned and nodded.
“Stay close to me,” Paschasia told Ava.
The mage raised his hand. The killing lights from the sky were absorbed by Paschasia’s armor.
“Hmph. We’ll see just how tough you really are.”
A skimmer came down with a salvo of rockets, hovered above Ava and shined its spotlight on her. Green lights undulated beneath the surface of the glass, and the rockets veered off course, smashing into walls.
“You can launch the power canister itself, Ava.”
The canister flew at the skimmer, blowing it up in red, blue, and green explosions. Ava ran out of the complex’s central courtyard, and ducked behind the wall, looking behind her. Someone in black armor with wing-like constructs came out of the building. Corposant around him glowed a pale violet. Paschasia’s own corposant glowed red. When the corposants touched, they seemed to repel each other in brilliant white, and dissolved.
Paschasia shot naga fireballs of pink like agitated hydrogen at the other armor and then cut with a lance of brilliant violet. The other armor responded by pulling in corpusant and drawing a ten-pointed symbol of green circles and lines around it with the tips of the wings, and then thrusting the spear through the center of the design. Rings streamed into a pulsing ray. Paschasia moved back and aside. The tips of the wings came off again, floated over towards Paschasia, and sliced with red lances. The undulating lights under the glass turned a blinding white, and a xenon blue beam shot out of Paschasia’s arm cannon, damaging the other armor.
“Can you hear me? I’m having problems. I think it’s a Templar Knight.” Ava heard only chaingun fire through her headset, reduced to a popping by noise filters. Her voice became distressed. “Can you hear me? Please!” She heard the popping of a chaingun, and a dulled explosion, and then there was only static. “Oh, fuck, no. No!” She fell to her knees. “No. Not here,” she said to herself, and fired her machine pistol at the occupied templar knight. And then she ran into the entryway of the complex, replacing the clip when she was safe. She ran down the hallway, slashing and firing at security drones, and ran into a sar and a potentate waiting for her.

“She is weak,” the potentate, a tall man with hairless skin like wax and an armored body draped in cloth, said in a dead, ominous voice. It carried a cruciform jumonji yari that doubled as a particle shield and each wrist had three vicious blades and a small gun attached to it. It shimmered, turned blue, and teleported away. The sar, an augmented human armored in blood red and bone white, cloth trailing behind it, readied its blade and started charging the beam cannon that covered its right arm.
Ava dodged a sun-yellow burst of plasma from the sar’s cannon, and fired at it with the machine pistol. It dodged the spray of bullets in a blur of images, blocked her slashes with its own blade, and Ava remained on the defensive. She slashed with the athame from a distance. The swath of light damaged the sar’s gun-carrying arm in a creak of tearing metal and a fountain of sparks and blood. Ava ran at the sar, slashing back and forth. The sar jumped over her, and she turned around to meet its blade with her own. Pink plasma burst out of the sar’s chest, surrounded by a haze of blood.
“It’s good to see you. There’s still one of those other avatar things lurking around here.” Ava noticed the air shimmering and changing. “Shit! Look out!”
Paschasia moved back, and the potentate jumped from a hole in space, jumonji yari pointed downwards, and slashed with its claw when it landed on the shattered floor. Ava slashed at it with the athame, and fired a blade of blue light at the shield. When it hit, the shield shimmered in a coruscating rainbow of colors like oil on water. The potentate formed six orbs of violet light around it, and sent them at Paschasia. Her armor sparked in brilliant purple and blue.
Ava double-slashed with the athame again, closer this time, decapitating the potentate.
“Is the armor damaged?” Ava asked.
“I’ll help you out of it. It’s not still useable, is it?”

Military police in blue greeted Ava and Paschasia in the next room, pistols ready. One of them had trembling hands as he pointed his gun at Ava. There was a railing, overlooking a spherical green hologram between the plates of a volumetric imager, surrounded by chairs. There was a large window looking outside.
“Don’t worry,” Paschasia said to Ava. “Oh, and please resist the temptation to fire upon any security drones you find.”
“What?” she responded. “I shot a bunch.”
“What are you hesitating for?” the officer asked. “Just shoot the damn terrorist.” Ava smiled nervously at the trembling man in response. He was young, she noticed. Almost as young as her. She giggled softly like nothing mattered anymore, and put her hand to her mouth in embarrassment.
He was stuttering. “I can’t do this.”
There was a distant explosion and the room went dark. The green hologram collapsed into a plane, line, dot, and then nothing. A few seconds later, much of the city outside the window blinked out.
“What happened?” one of the military police asked.
“Never mind her, just restore power. The archangel will deal with her.”

“Most of the sector’s out. What did you do? Paschasia? Huh? Where are you? He... he didn’t fire at me.”

The floors were marble, the walls were rotting plaster walls marked by vandals and pigeons. I heard footsteps, or at least thought I heard them, and stood against the wall until they went away. Maybe I could take them on, but I wasn’t going to risk that. Best to avoid them. It was dark here, lit only by flashlight beams, but I could see the neon-drenched streets beyond barred windows and doorways, the rain was pouring down, and even if I could pry open or unlock the bars, there was too much activity out there.

The lights went back on.
“Fuck yeah, made it!” Ava said to herself. “Shit!”
A man in green and white armor that seemed to be part of it was standing in front of the door.
“Hmph. Is this the archangel he mentioned?” She pulled out the machine pistol and fired the clip at the man. It created a barrier of crystal in front of it, and then dissolved it. A metal radula was in its place. The man jumped at her, radula spinning like a drill. Ava fell backwards to avoid it, stopping her fall with her hands and scuttling backwards. The radula transformed into a shining catherine wheel, held on a glowing green tether. Ava let herself fall to the floor and slid on the ground while the wheel whirred dangerously close to her, its humming sound permeating the air.
Beams of energy crossed, slicing through the archangel.
“I didn’t think I’d make it. Thanks, Paschasia.”

The hallways burst into light. I pressed the up button next to the elevator door and it whooshed open. The elevator was paneled with polished and carved yellowleaf wood and a tarnished chrome panel with dim buttons. I mashed twelve until I concluded that the elevator didn’t work, it was stuck on this level. I went back out, grabbed a pole and forced the top hatch of the elevator open, then wheeled in a stack of chairs from Conference Hall A and used them to climb out. The vapor lamps in the shaft worked, flickering and dim, and I could climb the cables and footholds on the walls, past the mazes of cubicles and as high as I could go.
It was silent up here, and the air was frigid and clammy and moist, yet stale. From here, I could get to a stairwell that led further up. The top floors were decorated with carpets from the Orient and paneled with oak and mahogany and yellowleaf, papered in faded damask. Porcelain pots held dead plants with rotting blossoms. The revolving glass door here led to a central lobby. The carpet was a repeated geometric floral design in the lobby, and the couches were upholstered with water-ruined leather or green velvet.
I picked a door that led to a spacious office with thick carpeting and oak furniture, emptied bookshelves and oil paintings, and a private washroom, the toilet filled with grime from an earlier septic problem just like our own, but everything else pristine and white. Tarentum, where the world’s richest live along with the world’s poorest. Through clever districting and foreigners, both the laws barring them from voting yet counting them as part of the metropolis’s population, and the fears about what they could end up doing if left unchecked, like the Ain Sifna incident, they managed to get all National in the Senate. Two of the province’s sixteen representatives in the House of Commons were of Democratic Socialist, two of Heritage Front, and the rest, including the illustrus and spectabile of the province were National.
I left the room via an emergency exit on to a grated scaffold, and climbed a ladder to the roof, the night was bright with city lights and Public Security vehicles. I was right in my estimation about the number of guards and magistrates surrounding the buildings. I hesitated a moment, thinking this was probably the most reckless thing I’d ever do, then remembered that if I wasn’t so damned reckless, I wouldn’t be in this situation: I jumped to the next roof, a one story drop, and skittered down its fire escape to a back alley strewn with garbage.
Ava was leaning against the door at our official emergence point three blocks over, when she saw me, she ran up to me, we embraced, twirled about our axis, and went out into the city with our arms entwined. We told each other everything.
“I thought you were dead. I could still send messages, but no response.”
“I left the armor behind.”
“They’re after me.”
“They won’t find us in the crowds. They don’t know who we are. It was dark, and I was in armor.”
“Someone knows who I am, I’m sure. I already stand out like a sang prang at a cat exhibit..”

A few districts away, the streets, reflecting rainbows of neon signs and liquid crystal advertisements, ribbons of white light, in rainwater, were inundated with people and cars. Middle-class shopping district, by the looks of it, and of the clothing on the people. Synthetic fibers and denim, iridescent sequins, shiny gold and silver fabrics, synthetic leather, pearlescent and translucent jackets, clear vinyl umbrellas, some illuminated like jellyfish. The light-tube lined boutique windows displayed winter clothes similar to that worn by the people in the crowd, and beachwear on mannequins under animated signs displaying sparkling sand bleached by sunlight and azure waters, shaded with the occasional palm, one mannequin with a circular neon lamp as a necklace, floral patterns on her clothes and a gauzy skirt, with a proclamation that Selatan was for lovers. Two of them in a photograph, a man in red and white trunks and a woman in a white one-piece outfit and a flower in her ash-blonde hair, sat under a washed up chunk of coral under the shade of palms and fern trees. I stared at it, longing for warmer days, smirked at the hyperreality of the image and wondered if Selatan of all places really looked like that. Someone sped by, splashing us.
“Bloody daft fucknut!” she yelled, but the driver was gone. “I don’t know where the hell the subway station is, and I want to go in and perhaps stand under the dryer for a minute.”

“I love rain on the windows, like when it breaks the lights up and it looks like star clusters,” Ava said. Normally the car lights whooshing by were bright blue and a dimmer red or orange, a patrol car sped by, illuminating the drops in brilliant blue and red. “It’s funny. I have one of those transparent umbrellas, but I always get mesmerized by the patterns and trip over my own feet when I try to walk with it.”
“Can I help you?” a cheerful-looking young woman with bobbed black hair, dressed in a cropped silver jacket, a forest green top and skinny blue jeans asked us.
“I just want to dry off, thanks.”
“Actually, I was wondering where the nearest station was. Preferably red, but we can deal with orange as well,” I said.
“Go that way,” she pointed, “two intersections over. There was a really bad power outage and I don’t know what happened. I think everything’s back on.”

The subway terminal was yellow and red ceramic tile, brick, and bare concrete, a grid of fluorescent lights crossed by metal pipes far above us, grimy and unmaintained. A young man in slightly torn jeans and a flannel shirt strummed on his guitar and sang, shifted it into a highly distorted electric mode. Two women who looked way too elegant for this place, a black-haired one in a fuchsia vinyl coat with chrome buttons and diaphanous pink skirt, blue strapped shoes with metal studs and girandole earrings, ruby-red lips and a silk coral rose in her hair, a red-haired one in a tan sweater with a fur collar, black top, black floral lace gloves, black short skirt, mesh stockings, black velvet boots with red sequin flowers.
“It’s skudgy, but it’s better than Selinus. At least all the stations look different.” Ava said. We sat down on a bench, a niche in the tiled wall, the few tiles that remained part of a suprematist design in red and black and gold long ago.
“I heard someone speaking on my headset. I think it’s a sequence, but I can’t understand anything else.”
“None of us have any idea what they’re saying or who’s saying it, but I’m wondering if it’s a warning of an invasion that could never come. Some people say aliens, most say Selinians or Pannonians or offworlds, and a few want to think that there was some horrible accident and we found something we shouldn’t have when poking around with the gatepieces.” She had trouble saying that last part with a straight face. “Nostrianus told me absolutely nothing about where he gets these toys of his. There’s something I don’t like about that man, but damned if I can say exactly what it is. He’s more than just a cracker, I know that.”
Our voices were drowned by the thundering crescendo of the train entering the station and bringing the stench of ozone with it. Ava kept her scarf on, hoping nobody would question her facial features and assume she had something to do with the recent incidents. A few advertisements said to visit Nicopolis or Lauriacum for the beaches, others offering jobs or advertising restaurants or liquors.
“Try being deep underground and listening to the voices. It’s spooky.”
“Hi.” A young woman with cropped blonde hair and plastic-framed glasses, dressed in a pale gray overcoat pulled back the fur-lined hood and removed her red and gold brocade scarf, unbuttoned her coat, a black and white striped shirt, a cowrieshell and bead necklace with a turittella pendant, jeans, black boots underneath.
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“Not really, I’m not one of you specifically, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I can not tell you,” she smiled. “Worry not, I’m not with Lepidus.”
“I understand.” Ava said.
She said nothing after that, just stared at us with amber eyes. A mechanical voice said “the doors will open on the left. Safety is our priority concern,” blah blah.
“Well, this is our stop.”
The mechanical voice said “Please do not lean against the doors.”
Recommended Listening:
Lustmord - Heresy (beginning)
Bark Psychosis - Murder City (middle)
Aphex Twin - Meltphace 6 (end)
Vector Lovers - Capsule For One (end)

The voices are similar to the infamous numbers stations on shortwave radio.

Swordfish is a rather obvious password that's originally a reference to a Marx Brothers movie.

Inspirations for the films Ava mentions.
1. The one that's upside-down and in proto-Yunaese (Vietnamese or Chinese) - something a friend mentioned.
2. An ultraviolent shock film with oversaturated colors and distortions - one of the Home Despot's dreams.
3. The specific one about the bald man cutting the throat of a cyclops woman - a dream of mine
4. The surrealistic alien invasion - a barely remembered dream around the time Independence Day came out in theaters.
5. The cloned Germani dictators - I was talking about some drawings of Hitler clones doing ballet and helping little old ladies cross the street with Rich and he said there could be a movie that's a mixture of grindhouse and arthouse: War of the Hitlers.
6. Divorce trial - I half-jokingly said I could make a better movie than some Lifetime movie of the week.

"Anti-semitism" refers to discrimination against Kishi and Qatabanese speakers of all religions. I'm of the belief that the real life term should apply to people who hate Arabs, Amhara, and Maltese. That means YOU, Meir Kahane.
© 2008 - 2021 YamaTheSpaceFish
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LadyAnder's avatar
This was incredible hard to read. In some parts there were no quotation marks where I thought someone was talking. Sometimes I wasn't even sure who the speaker was. Like this section:

"Is there any way around this?"
"I thought you could swim, Ava."
"Not in this crapola. It's too deep and I don't want to be all freezing and skudgy. I'd rather go around, or preferably find a drainage system that doesn't back up the sewers or dump this shit water in the river. Anyway, yes, I've been here before, but it's been three years, and I got here from a different passage."
"I'll talk about it some other time."

There are three characters that I could find at the beginning aside from the narrator. Who is speaking here? I have no clue. I guess Ava is one of the characters taking and I assume it is the character doing the narrating speaking and I don't think I ever found out their name. It's nice to have it mentioned even though it is established in the chapters before this, it needs to be said periodically.

This is another section that is confusing.

Paschasia took a suit of armor like a small black golem. The armor's surface was decorated with a glassy material that glowed in phosphorescent colors. Two spots of undulating pink created a shield around her.
"I don't know much about golems." Ava said. "But if we ever have to fight cataphracts, we aim to knock out the power source without destroying it. They're utterly helpless without power."
"It's how we take armor. Electromagnetic pulses work well." Paschasia elucidated on Ava's statement. "My armor's been modified so the weapons draw from a separate power source if the main one is knocked out. It would give me time to get out of the armor before it's destroyed. Golems are the same. You could walk in golem armor without power. You can fire without main power. You'd be slow, though, and not everything would be operational, and you'd be at the mercy of fate and the people attacking you."
"What about you?" I asked Ava.Press enter here. I've seen instances of this all ready in this chapter. There are a few exception to this rule but generally, after the end of dialogue, you need to start a new paragraph. Don't be afraid of the enter button, it will not hurt you. She had an old set of dark blue khaki workers' coveralls on, with waterproof boots up to her knees and thick gloves.
"Yeah. This is what I'm wearing in battle." She put on a resin breastplate, wrapped a thick scarf around her face. "I mean, how am I supposed to climb up the shafts?"Why did you end the quotation, the character is still speaking, isn't she? I need to get in there safely to deal with security and allow her armor to get in the regulator control area. The armor would just weigh me down. I got the coveralls from one of the sympathetic workers."
"Well, be careful."Who's speaking?
"I wish I could be with you. I hated Walafar for what he did to us. And it isn't like he hated us, either. He was just indifferent, personally, but he knew we'd make an easy target for repression. We were nothing to him, and somehow, that pisses me off even more. I hate him more than I hate Sadegh Husanyi. At least he was sincere with his anti-Khorasani and anti-Semitic beliefs."
"Why aren't you coming with me? You said you were here."
"I couldn't make it past the garbage pits. It was the workers' quarters I was exploring, and I had to go through this really long tunnel for Green that goes under the poor and minority parts, and you could be smashed by a train without anyone noticing for years. Besides, I'm one of the more agile ones in the group."

You don't have to tell who is speaking at the end of every sentence but you still need to make it clear to the reader who is talking. You just had three characters speak in that section. It was clear at first until where I marked it. I mean if it was the main character and Paschasia, you could have clarified it twice and then it would have been clear to me. Also the following paragraph is the same way.

Where is Nostrianus? Did we forget about him?

Also the word, "elucidated" stood out in my mind and not in a good way. To provide word variety in your story doesn't mean you have to use 10 dollar words. If you do use them, have a reason. If the character is highly educated and they mirror it in their speech, then it is okay, otherwise it just stands out and doesn't fit in with the rest of the story.

Also the transition between dialogue into action and description are too abrupt. One minute someone is speaking and the next minute the character is doing and I have no idea why she is doing what she is doing. You need some details my friend. The entire story sound very interesting, I mean really it does but I can't read it because everything is jumbled.

Also are you speaking in 1st person present or 1st past. I see instances of both. You need to pick one and stick with it.

If you get your quotation marks in the right place, hit the space-bar in the right places, and be clearer about who is doing the talking, this can be nice. Right now, its just very difficult to read and I can't give you more past that. The best way to learn about all that I have mentioned, is learn the basic rules of quotation mark usage and find a novel and look how that author uses quotation marks. Also while you are reading that novel, you need to look at how they transition and not let it be too jarring.

Also, as a curtsy on DA, you need to put spaces between paragraphs and maybe dialogue. Its very hard to read it all as a glob of text.
YamaTheSpaceFish's avatar
I wrote a reply earlier but for some reason didn't post it.

Why did you end the quotation, the character is still speaking, isn't she?
I don't know why I ended it. I think it's because I condensed things and forgot to delete the offending quotation mark.

Where is Nostrianus? Did we forget about him?
Those are the kind of questions you should be asking. No offense, but I was hoping for more stylistic and plot-related critique and less editing mistakes when I posted in that thread.

Also are you speaking in 1st person present or 1st past. I see instances of both. You need to pick one and stick with it.

It should be first person past, with the occasional third person limited past. I'll have to fix that problem.
LadyAnder's avatar
When something is riddled with errors, it's very hard to read and see passed those errors. Since you mentioned the condensing, I can see why some of the mistakes were made. I've done it before. After you do editing and condensing, check your work again and make sure you smooth out any places that aren't.

The clarity issues are the real problem here. When you don't know who's speaking, where the dialogue ends and begins it is very hard to read and make sense of everything.

Also description feel lacking and it makes it hard to grasp what is going on. Just a little more can help clear things up as well.

Also those points of 3rd person makes this piece somewhat confusing as well. You can use different POV's in a story. It can be jarring and distracting as it is in here. I'm not sure how to make it better when you jump around within a chapter. That too relates to the issues here.

I can't say anything about plot because of all of those problems. It's getting in the way of you telling your story effectively.