Day 75. 50 pages, 19,508 words.
Predericon stood and watched the Demon, waiting to see what it would do. By her sides, Lelhmak and Gyden did the same.
Odium appeared to be a completely normal human, although whether male or female Predericon couldn’t have said. She could usually tell, but Odium’s features had several ambiguous physiological markers and its uniform inconsiderately obscured the rest. Its face was – well, just a human face, really, framed with curls of shoulder-length head-hair of a deep brown colour. There were darker tufts of fur above its eyes, but most humans she’d seen had similar – or even more – fur of various sorts. They were primates, after all.
Now she was looking at it in real-life rather than on an indistinct recovered Flesh-Eater log, Predericon recognised the silver-and-black uniform as that of a Greater Roman Megapolitan Protector, specifically a field officer of quite high rank. Odium, it seemed, held a ceremonial position equivalent to that of a foreign diplomat, but with active duty authority that was frankly a little concerning when one considered how much power these agents of the Castle seemed to have.
Predericon reminded herself that up until the Four Realms had vanished and Odium had decided to board the Elevator, the Demons hadn’t really been that much of a threat. Too many opposing powers. Up until the … event … the Demon had probably been granted sufficient rank to permit it to live in a nice house and strut around with a shiny uniform and gun, but hadn’t been allowed to actually enforce any but the most innocuous peacekeeping laws.
She was just beginning to think Odium might have in fact been knocked out in its current pose, locked in time the way their perceptions seemed to have been, when the Demon spoke.
“So,” it said. “You’re … taller than I expected.”
Predericon glanced behind her, past Gyden’s tense face, and noted that the door had once again vanished.
I knew it, she thought. You just flicked the lights off and tweaked the gravity. I knew it.
She turned back. “You are Odium?”
“Odium,” the Demon’s grin widened. “I haven’t heard that name in a while. But yes, I am Odium. I was rather expecting humans.”
“There’s no such thing as a quasi-transperse pulse,” Gyden said wearily, “is there?”
“I have no idea what a quasi-transperse pulse is,” Odium said, and unfolded smoothly to its feet. It was as small as most humans, the rounded top of its head about level with Predericon’s lower shoulders, but it was nevertheless imposing. A lot of this was the fact that they’d seen it punch a Category 9 Convoy Defence Platform Flesh-Eater clean out through the vessel’s hull and across the surface of a small moon. The uniform filled in the rest. “But if you mean something to knock me out so you could kill me … no. In that case, you’re right – there is no such thing as a quasi-transperse pulse.”
“Well there’s obviously no way for us to kill you,” Lelhmak said, “so what happens next?”
Odium pointed a thick finger at the ceiling. “Has she told you about the Segmentation Protocol?” it asked. The Molren nodded. “Apparently, what some of the segments decided that meant was that there was an emergency that warranted total segmentation,” Odium explained. “Specifically, no more pesky organics running around between segments, messing things up. The bad news for the crew was, of course, that they all had to die in order for this protocol to be properly implemented. The good news, aside from the admittedly cold comfort of knowing the Segmentation Protocol was achieved flawlessly … the good news was that, by strange coincidence, it turned out she was right.”
“You showed up,” Lelhmak said, “and couldn’t get anything done without organics.”
“I showed up,” Odium declared, “and was very rudely treated by those knife-fingered ghouls she keeps around the place.”
“Yes, we saw the logs,” Gyden replied cautiously.
“Good punch on you,” Lelhmak added.
“Thank you. I like to think I held my own. The problem with this wonderful Segmentation Protocol,” Odium went on, “is that the command section didn’t know what the Flesh-Eaters were doing, and all the other segments reacted to the emergency in different ways, the crew was declared expendable since they would presumably have died in stowage anyway, and the ship – excuse me, the platform … have you noticed how tetchy she gets about that one?”
“No,” Lelhmak said, “but we generally use the correct terminology.”
Odium grinned. “Touché. Well, anyway, the platform was left essentially without autonomy. Which, as it happened, was a good thing and a bad thing. Because it left me, really, with nothing to work with.”
“And I’m afraid we can’t help you either,” Predericon said, “since we’re not crew.”
“Oh, no,” Odium said. “I didn’t expect you were. Crew tends to be human, like I say. She doesn’t like Molren.”
“She’s treated us quite reasonably,” Lelhmak said, “with the obvious glaring exception of convincing us that you would be unconscious, then letting us walk in here.”
Odium’s grin widened. “Oh, no,” it said again. “I’m sure she’s perfectly nice, especially to – I’m going to assume – visitors from another vessel. I mean she doesn’t like the taste of Molren.”
“We are notoriously stringy,” Lelhmak acknowledged easily into the horrified silence.
“So,” Predericon tried to move things along past the Demon’s taste remark, “we were led here under the false assurance that you would be disabled, so we would be able to remove you from the platform,” she felt it prudent to drape their mission in euphemism at this point. “You, on another hand, were expecting the Destarion to … deliver some humans to you?”
“We had reached something of an impasse,” Odium said. “I could do nothing but inflict pointless damage on the platform’s systems but achieve nothing productive or profitable with the vessel. She could neither destroy nor expel me, but had locked me out of her key systems. And I gather this has been the situation for some time.”
“You’ve been in these secure chambers for a number of months,” Lelhmak admitted.
“Probably,” Predericon amended.
“And the emergency, whatever it was, has not resolved itself,” Odium mused, then shook its head. “Therefore, it became important for the Destarion to restore some kind of command structure. She agreed to let me … participate … in that, as long as I agreed not to force my way through to her Bharriom stockpiles and begin punching things.”
“Now I see why you were expecting humans,” Predericon said.
“Indeed,” Odium brushed some small crumbs of white hull-matter from its trousers, dusted its hands, and smiled at the Molren. “So,” it went on, “shall we go?”