228 - Boy Meets Girl

Jason drops through the maintenance hatch into the tunnel system.

He’s hungry and thirsty. He’s also scared, but not out of his wits - not yet. He dare not show that, though. He starts jogging down the railway tunnel, orienting himself from memory.

“Okay, miss intelligence analysis. Make yourself useful.”

Soldiers didn’t immediately enter the room when you disabled - her.

“Your jealousy is showing. If you have so much trouble with her name, how about Ms. X?”

I don’t think she’s content being just an ex. I think–

“You’re stalling. Do you have something or not?”

Very well. After you disabled Byrne, you’d expect an armed response. Soldiers, or somebody, dispatched to a secure room where a prisoner had just escaped. I recall cameras, but perhaps they weren’t feeding the SVR. For example, the TALOS was one of Sidorov’s designs, clearly. Perhaps that male voice giving orders was Sidorov after all.

“Okay, so if he’s alive, he’s working with SVR?”

Yes, and with enough authority to run things his own way.

“It would probably take a hypergenius to unravel this nanotech,” concurs Jason. “Someone like that, who worked with Dr. Chin and thus at least passingly familiar with Byron Quill’s tech, would make a good fit.”

It thus seems unlikely that they’ll mobilize the regular army to chase you down here. Sidorov won’t want to lose face by letting a prize such as yourself get away, only to be captured by the Russian Ground Forces.

“He’ll send–”

A shot rings out, and Jason throws himself to the side, instinctively.

“T’was a warning shot,” comes a cheerful lilting voice. “The next one won’t be.”

By all the saints and martyrs, the Mirror mutters.

Jason turns to see Jenny Byrne, expertly aiming a pistol at him. She’s got a second one in her other hand.

“I see our relationship has entered choppy waters,” he quips with a forced grin.

“I’m afraid I must insist that you return,” Jenny says firmly.

Jason laughs. “Come now, after all the–”

A second shot rings out, and Jason feels the passage of the bullet near his head.

“I misspoke. Two warning shots,” Jenny announces.

She’s not bluffing, the Mirror concurs.

“Well I am,” Jason mutters under his breath. “S’all I’ve got.”

I hope you’re better at it than I remember.

Loudly, Jason calls out. “The nano-reactor is spiked. I saw to that. You won’t get anything valuable out of me at that location.”

“That’s the boss’s problem, not mine,” Jenny says.

“But I thought you were the one with the interest. ‘A new career as a researcher into nanotechnology’, wasn’t it? Isn’t Sidorov building toys like TALOS, while you’re the one doing the interesting work?”

He can see her face waver for just a moment. Then her resolve stiffens, as does her grip on the pistol. “None of your honeyed blandishments, Mr. Quill. Now come peacefully.”

Jason feels he can push just a bit more. He goes for broke. “Surely you’ve made some kind of breakthrough, even with what little you were able to obtain.”

Her eyes light up. Jackpot.

“Well, since you asked so nicely, I’ll explain. Just so you don’t get any wild ideas about escaping en route, you understand.”

Jenny pulls at the edges of her top.

Don’t you dare look at her– the Mirror shouts urgently.

But what the girl reveals isn’t anything salacious or private. Instead, Jason can see some kind of silvery patch embedded on her skin. Fine silver lines radiate away from it in all directions.

“кукла. The Poppet system. It’s not your full nanobot suite, admittedly, but it allows me to access experiences, knowledge, even muscle memory. It’ll be the new generation of RNA transcoding technology, allowing anyone to be an agent, a soldier, anything they need.”

Jenny hefts the pistol in her off hand by way of demonstration - the one in her dominant hand stays firmly fixed on Jason. “You see? Right now I’ve got the skills of a tracker, a shooter, and a soldier loaded. I can keep up with someone like you, m’dear. What took you a lifetime of experience can be accessed by me in seconds.”

Jason starts walking toward Jenny, hands in the air. He’s on borrowed time, and isn’t going to take chances. “And by Sidorov’s private army, one assumes.”


“And then he’s done with you?” Jason asks innocently.

“What do you mean?” Jenny snaps.

“Well, there’s no more nano-reactor, is there. The software spike was permanent. Which means my usefulness as a research subject is nil.” Jason is babbling, making up this scheme as he goes. But what else does he have? “My usefulness as a researcher, though, is invaluable. It’s my father’s tech, and I’m its sole user. And despite the impressiveness of Poppet, I’m a hypergenius, and I don’t think you can replicate that.”

Jenny’s voice is angry. “He’d never replace me. I’ve done everything for him!”

Ask her about Zeldovich.

“And was he so gracious with Zeldovich?”

Jenny’s mouth forms an O. “How did you know about that?”

Jason taps the side of his head and winks. “My passenger, remember?”

Jenny’s shoulder sag. “Of course, I should have known. Sidorov, Doctor Chin’s loyal lieutenant. The daughter would be expected to know of her father’s associates.”

Hands still in the air, Jason tries his most brazen bluff yet. It’s either that or engage in hand to hand once he’s close enough, and the odds are good he’ll take at least one bullet in the process. “You know, if the only thing keeping you at Sidorov’s side is nanotechnology, maybe there’s someone who can make you a better offer?”

Wait. What are you doing?

Jenny is silent. Jason feels himself holding his breath, and forces himself to breathe. He’ll need oxygen if this is the moment a fight happens.

“What guarantee do I have that you’d make good, and not just run away again, Mr. Jason Quill?” the girl asks at last.

Jason shrugs, charm turned up to full again. “You’ve got the guns. And if you can’t keep me corralled, you know your Poppet system isn’t all you say it is. Call this a job interview. If your system can outmatch any escape attempt I might make, I’d say you’re worth hiring.”

The gun on Jason doesn’t waver, but Jenny’s mouth curls into a sly smile. “And I expect I’d be working… under you, Mr. Quill?”

Do not flirt with her. Do not dare flirt with her. I will find a way to kill you. I swear before Lei Shen, god of thunder and retribution, I will find a way.

Jason’s smile is dazzling. “We’ll negotiate specifics once we both know each other a little better, how about that?”

Jenny pouts a bit, but her smile is back momentarily. “Such a tease. Then how about we find ourselves a comfortable military railcar?”

“And head to Vnukovo International Airport? Just the three of us?”

Jenny nods. “Sidorov has a plane bound for Mongolia. Very hush-hush. But it’s got absolute clearance to fly anywhere. I propose that I get you on board, and we’ll follow your plan from then on?”

Jenny gestures with the guns. Jason realizes she’s not going to relent one whit in her watchfulness.

Jason shrugs. “I was going to say ladies first, but under the circumstances I’ll let protocol slide.”


Jenny’s credentials are enough to get the two of them through Metro-2’s security checkpoint. From there it’s back to the surface world of Moscow, and the airport. After the press-on nail incident, she seems unwilling to let anything small and useful near Jason, so he goes without disguise. Jason notes that the guns, while not always pointed at him, are always handy.

The pair eventually board an Antonov An-22, a turboprop-driven transport aircraft. From Jenny’s description, Jason isn’t surprised to see pallets loaded and rigged for cargo in the cavernous interior of the plane. He is a little worried to see a dozen people, all dressed in tactical gear and equipped with rifles and grenades.

“Are we riding along for an operation?” he asks Jenny.

“This isn’t your personal taxi, Mr. Quill,” the girl replies lightly. “We’ll be flying to Khovd, in Mongolia. As to what happens next, well… that’s up to you.”

Jason feels his stomach rumbling, and his beat-up body protesting. “How about in-flight meals?”

“To be sure, m’dear,” the girl smiles. “Now buckle in.”

Jason’s halfway through fastening himself into the harness when he hears Jenny instruct one of the soldiers. “If this man unbuckles himself for any reason, you are to shoot him.”

After takeoff, there’s a bathroom break, then the in-flight meal. Jenny teasingly offers to feed Jason out of the MRE box, but he politely declines. It’s not a five-star restaurant in Halcyon, but it’s not bugs off the bottom of a log, and Jason’s had both in his life.

Thus fortified, he’s almost back to normal when Jenny brings out the syringe and bottle. “I’m sure you need sleep, m’dear, but I need to know you’re really asleep, and not plotting something. How much do you weigh?”

Jason gives a number and Jenny fills the syringe accordingly.

It’s hard to exchange banter over the roar of an airplane, but Jason does his best. “You’re a nurse now?”

“Doctor, actually,” she replies, and pats the spot where her Poppet System is implanted.

“What if I don’t trust what’s in the syringe?” he says, trying to sound light-hearted.

To his surprise, Jenny summons one of the soldiers and addresses him. “You. Weight?”

The man replies in a monotone voice. Jenny measures out a dosage in a second syringe, injects the man’s bare arm, and gives Jason a few minutes to observe the effects.

After confirming for himself that the soldier is fast asleep and nothing else, Jason shrugs. “An impressive display of trust,” he admits.

“They follow orders when necessary,” Jenny explains. “Hopefully you will do the same for the duration of our trip, my good sir.”

Jason extends his arm.

He wakes to the Mirror’s voice in his head.

Jason, wake up.

Groggily, he collects himself. Vibrations - smell of oil on metal - overwhelming noise - darkness punctuated by harsh artificial light. He remembers he’s on an airplane.

“I’m awake,” he mumbles to himself.

There’s something you need to know.

“Do tell.”

Jenny Byrne is planning to betray you.

“Still on this, are you?”

I’m serious.


While you were unconscious, I couldn’t see through your eyes, but I could still hear through your ears. The anesthetic didn’t affect me. So I was able to overhear her side of a conversation over the radio-phone.


Her plan is to get you back to your compound, where you have the nanotech equipment she wants. Then she’ll murder you and return to Sidorov.

“Interesting. But you’ve got a credibility problem. Any thoughts?”

I’m trying to save your life, Jason!

Jason glances around. The soldiers are here, but Jenny isn’t.

“Getting me back on my turf sounds like a bad strategy.”

She’ll volunteer to help you regain control of your nanobots and access codes.

“This is quite a lot to spill over a random phone call.”

The Mirror is silent for long moments. I admit some of this is supposition.

“How much is some?”

Enough to distrust her.

Jenny comes back from the cockpit. “We’ll be landing soon, m’dear.”

Jason takes in the changes. She’s now wearing her own tactical web, with her guns holstered. He can see at a glance that they’re rigged for quick-drawing, and that at least one hand stays at her waist in readiness to do just that.

“And then, our ah, alternative travel arrangements?”

The girl shakes her head. “There’s been a change of plan.”

I warned you.

Jason takes a breath to keep himself calm and control his anxiety. “What change?”

Jenny gestures at the troops. “We’ll be accompanying them on a brief mission. No drama. A simple trade of resources with an interested third party. Once that’s done, we’ll proceed as you direct.”

Jason’s eyes narrow in thought. He needs a plan, and needs to buy time to think of one. “These guys are dressed for excessive drama.”

Jenny shrugs her shoulders - but one hand stays at her waist, ready to draw. “I could get them tuxedoes and bow ties if you’d feel more at home that way.”

“A fancy dress brawl,” quips Jason. “What a notion.”

Jenny smiles and returns to her seat.

I told you to stop flirting with the woman who’s trying to kill you.

“When did that ever stop us?” replies Jason, sotto voce.

1 Like

Jason has indeed done both, and though he values knowing about bugs and fungus and other edible bits in pretty much any clime, and has had extensive practical training in the field, he’ll choose the former hands-down.

Though, honestly, has preference, and greatest breadth of experience, is in street food on a global basis. It’s actually something he and Alycia share as a common interest and damn, I need to include that bit of backstory somewhere.


1 Like

There’s ways to tell how long you’ve been unconscious. The body has natural rhythms and cycles. Fingernails grow, and even if trimmed they won’t have the same contours they did when you fell asleep. Hunger and thirst wax and wane. Only one passage of the nose is dominant at a time, and trades off every few hours. There’s a whole field of study, chronobiology, dedicated to understanding the circadian rhythms human beings developed on a planet with a 24-hour day, and the longer infradian rhythms.

Jason hasn’t studied this scientifically. He got the lowdown from Rusty. But it was enough to tell him that he hasn’t been out for hours, but days.

How many days? He’s not sure, not exactly. Maybe he should have studied the science.

He surreptitiously checks his arm. Is there an intravenous access device? No. No signs of recent injection. Jenny must have been keeping him under, and then cleaned up after herself when it was time for him to wake up.

That also means everything the Mirror said about her secret scheme is automatically suspect. He’s still in an airplane, but planes don’t fly for days.

Would Alycia - even this faux Alycia - have said something? He feels like it would have been mentioned. If the Mirror goes unconscious when he does, her story is entirely a lie. It’s also possible, however unlikely, that she’s in league with Jenny.

Is it unlikely? Jenny had access to her for a few minutes via the nano-reactor in Moscow. That’s a short amount of time to analyze an unknown situation and inject some kind of behavior modification. Leo and his Heart Factory could conceivably do it, but Jason is pretty sure he’s been working with that particular gadget for years, not minutes.

Jason thought he was being pretty clever, even under desperate circumstances. Now, stuck on a Russian cargo airplane with a dozen armed goons, a dangerous and unpredictable girl with guns, and a compromised copy of Alycia Chin in his head, he’s seriously considering just jumping out of the plane.

Jenny appears again. Her face registers some latent guilt. She probably knows Jason knows something is up. Neither she nor the Mirror say anything.

This is the moment where he makes his make-or-break decision. While she’s feeding him, he could loose himself, put her in a lock, use her as a shield against the troops, and chance getting a parachute on himself before someone shoots him.

What makes him reject the option isn’t the guilt on her face, and the chance she genuinely regrets lying to him. It’s the faces of the soldiers.

This plane is carrying out some kind of secret op for Sidorov, who’s got pull with the Russian government. None of these guys are marked or equipped as Russian Ground Forces, so they’re not regular troops. Secret operations call for special mission units - elite soldiers who’ve been trained, who keep their mouths shut, who can get the job done. People like Rusty.

But something Rusty drummed into his head was the military mindset. The men and women who serve with you are brothers and sisters. You develop a camaraderie out of the training and the missions you perform together. That’s true of any unit, in any time and place, as far back as the Sacred Band of Thebes.

These guys don’t crack jokes, don’t talk to each other, don’t share any glances or nods of affirmation. There’s no conversation. Even the soldier Jenny sent into the chemical toilet with Jason just stood there and watched him, like he was an animal being dissected. These guys aren’t passing time the way soldiers would. They’re just… waiting.

Jason’s life might be in danger, but it’s always been in danger. In a way, he feels at home again, alive again. That gives his curiosity room to assert itself.

What is going on here?

The plane touches down in Khovd, in the predawn hours. “Airport” is generous - there’s a single runway etched into the desert, then a short strip of pavement leading to the city itself, and a handful of long and lonely roads leading to lands beyond.

The soldiers have donned civilian apparel, but are still armed. Jason finds himself escorted off the plane in the company of Jenny and two of them. The others are busy loading the cargo onto big flatbed trucks. And for moving people, there’s a refurbished Ulaanbaatar bus.

The convoy heads out of Khovd and onto the road.

“It’ll be about ten hours,” announces Jenny. “I suggest you get some sleep.”

“Ten hours, eh?” Jason asks sardonically, with a knowing glance at his arm.

“Ten hours,” she repeats, but turns away before he can get a look at her face. There’s no needle this time.

“You’re doing a deal with someone. Arms, high-tech parts, some kind of specialty gear. You don’t trust them, and you haven’t worked with them before. You negotiated an initial meet-up, and you’ve got extra security along just in case. Your buyers aren’t superhuman.”

Jenny turns around and looks at him, in some surprise. “How could you deduce the last point?” she asks, in what to Jason sounds like honest curiosity.

“You sent guys with guns,” Jason explains. “I can’t imagine TALOS is a unique creation. Sidorov’s hoppers - the anti-gravity tanks - were factory produced. I imagine there’s probably more than one TALOS. But unless I very much misjudged the weight of those crates, there’s no TALOS in any of them as a surprise. Maybe there’s some other kind of anti-super tech in there. Maybe Sidorov sent them via another route. But that feels unlikely. So whoever you’re dealing with is vulnerable to guns.”

Jenny takes all this in. “Oh,” she says finally.

Jason smiles. He still can’t trust her. And the Mirror is still silent. So in the absence of anything better to do, at least he can be charming.

“May I tell you something about myself?” she asks.

“You can tell me whatever you like,” Jason shrugs. “It’d be pleasant if it was true.”

Jenny winces slightly, but goes on. “I’m a creation of ANTIBODY - a research program to create clones. The program targets specific individuals, like your father, and makes people to order. Someone who can fit perfectly into the target’s life, appeal perfectly to their interests.”

“I’ve seen the Star Trek episode,” Jason quips.

“This is real,” Jenny insists. “Do you understand what it’s like to be made to be something? Not merely having your life taken up by someone else, as your father did to you? But to literally be a product, or a weapon?”

To her evident surprise, Jason smiles and nods. “I do. A couple of good friends of mine struggle with that very thing.” He pauses. How much to antagonize his seeming captor? “If you ever make it to Halcyon, I’ll introduce you.”

“I’d like that,” the girl says in a quiet, thoughtful voice. “In the wake of my return from there - the time we first met - I tried to become something else. Byron Quill launched an attack against the ANTIBODY facility. Doctor Sidorov was there, and was badly hurt, but he survived. The program was interrupted for a long time, and only recently resurrected. But the existing Antibodies - those who came back alive - we were all allowed our own lives.”

She raises her head and looks right at Jason. “Once a weapon is fired at its one and only target, does it cease to be a weapon?”

Jason is surprised to hear the Mirror’s voice.

No. Never.

“I hope so,” is Jason’s answer.

1 Like

He hasn’t figured out his role in this deal. There’s a lot of unknowns here. Was Jenny already scheduled to go on this trip, and she just brought him along because of his escape attempt? He only got out of the SVR building by outwitting her, and that took a stroke of luck - taking an improvised lockpick away from her just as she was confiscating his original tools.

But if things are so urgent, why the subterfuge? Why did the “flight” take days, not hours?

He’s missing something important.

The endlessness of the road lulls him into a brief sleep.

He wakes to find his hands cuffed.

They aren’t ordinary cuffs. They’ve got metal plates, forcing his hands to stay spread to prevent tricks like dislocating the thumb. Someone went to a lot of effort.

“We’re here,” announces Jenny, and helps him get out of the bus’s seat.

The meet-up is in the middle of the desert, off the road. There’s no coverage against spy satellites, but there’s also literally nothing for fifty miles worth spying on.

Jason’s clothes are filthy from travel and sweat, and he suddenly becomes aware of the odor as he steps off the bus and into the light of early morning.

“Do they usually give the condemned man a cigarette before the execution?” he quips.

“If all goes well, nobody will be executed,” Jenny replies.

“If you thought all was going well, you’d have left the soldiers behind.”

It’s a short walk to where a handful of cars and SUVs are parked. A group of people, all wearing full-coverage clothing and headgear, are hanging around the vehicles - some up front, some behind. All of them are visibly armed.

Jason doesn’t recognize the style. There’s no way they’re in anyone’s regular army. They aren’t desert fighters - they’re driving locally made vehicles, not the more battle-tested technicals such as a Jeep or Toyota Hilux. The assault rifles are slung, but clearly ready for action. They clearly have esprit de corps and good discipline - he can see them glancing about, taking stock, evaluating the situation and silently reporting to each other via nods or surreptitious hand gestures. He’d guess they’re some kind of intelligence outfit, but they aren’t from any country he’d recognize.

He sees Jenny stiffen, and briefly convulse. The Poppet system?

She wordlessly hands him off to two of the soulless soldiers and heads toward the center of the meeting area. From here, Jason can barely hear what happens next. He’s reasonably sure he could break the grip of these guys, but curiosity is still strong.

His thoughts are interrupted by a man, coming up from where the trucks are parked with their mysterious cargo. The soldiers don’t do anything to stop him, so Jason immediately infers he belongs here. But where the devil did he come from? Jason never saw him on the plane, never saw him during the deplaning and cargo transfer.

The guy is masked, but his voice is strangely familiar. “Long trip?”

“You could say that.”

“Don’t worry. It’s almost over. Then you’ll be in more familiar surroundings again.”

Jason tries to place the voice, but fails. There’s something maddeningly familiar about him.

“What do you reckon is going on?” the man asks nonchalantly.

“If I had to guess, an exchange of Russian hypertech for goods or services,” Jason observes.

“Hmm, pretty astute. What do you think the Russians are getting?”

Jason shrugs, as best he’s able given his restraint. “Sure depends on who the other party is. They read like spies, but spies of what nation?”

“Atlantis. An underwater kingdom,” the man confides.

This raises Jason’s eyebrows. “You’re kidding.”

“Not in the slightest. In fact they’re bringing me something I want very much.”

Jason raises his eyebrows further. “I take it you’re the good doctor Sidorov?”

The masked man lets out a small sigh, the sort a teacher uses around a bright student who missed a few answers on the test. “No, my friend. I’m who Sidorov works for.”

The surprise of this delays Jason’s reactions only slightly. But in that window of time, the man has grabbed hold of his arms, locking him in place with superhuman strength. One of the soldiers immediately aims a pistol at Jason’s head.

The Atlantean contingent, spotting the sudden and seemingly hostile movement, ready their weapons in an instant. But the Russians don’t respond in kind. Instead, the masked man yells out.

“Alycia Chin! I know you’re here. I have Jason Quill. You have four minutes before I execute him. You are instructed to reveal and surrender yourself.”

Jason can’t say he’s shocked. Alycia being here makes sense - she ran off on some mystery deal, and this is exactly the sort of circumstances she’d be chasing down. But how could this man know she’s here, and within earshot?

“Three minutes forty five seconds!”

A phone rings. It’s coming from one of the Atlanteans’ vehicles.

“Answer it!” the masked man orders.

The Atlantean brings the phone over. The masked man, meanwhile, continues his countdown. “Three minutes thirty seconds!”

The phone goes on speaker. Alycia is whispering just loudly enough to be audible. “Jason. Post-dance. L and A announce their plans. You think I’m distracted. You joke that what appeared?”

Jason thinks back. When? Oh - the dance. The grove. The announcement that shook up the Menagerie.

Should he reply? He reasons through the branching paths of choice in an instant. He can let her know it’s really him, and she’s already revealed that she’s listening in by making this call. What she does with this information is up to her.

Trust Alycia, he tells himself.

“A giant floating head of Magus Everard appears,” he replies.

Some distance away, he spots a figure rise out of the sand of the desert.

Damn it all.

Alycia Chin walks brazenly through the two groups of armed figures, and stops before Jason. “What are you doing here?” she demands coldly.

Jason feels himself handed off to the soldiers, and the masked man steps out. “I can answer that,” he says.

The mask comes off. Jason can see a face that he doesn’t recognize, but that he’d know anywhere. A fusion of features. Byron Quill’s cheeks. Achilles Chin’s formidable brow. His own blue eyes. Alycia’s trademark smirk.

“My name is Pyrrhus,” the stranger announces.

Alycia stiffens. Jason infers immediately that they have a history. This must be her quarry.

Pyrrhus beckons for the Atlanteans to approach, and two of them do. His next words are mainly for them. “You expressed concern about Leo Snow and his associates from the Menagerie. Meet Jason Quill and Alycia Chin, who’ve both been led on a merry chase of their own.”

He turns a sardonic smile on Jason. “Lest you think me an unhinged mastermind revealing his evil plan to our heroes, let me clarify. Our new friends have had some pointed questions about you two, and in the interest of mutual cooperation I’d like them to be informed of the circumstances to this point.”

Jason can see Jenny Byrne coming toward the group. She’s walking monotonically, like the soldiers, but he can see her eyes squeezed in concentration.

Pyrrhus gestures at Alycia. “Daughter of Doctor Achilles Chin, Alycia Chin was to be the inheritor of his empire and his Great Work. And here, son of Chin’s nemesis Byron Quill, is Jason. Child of privilege, unwitting and later unwilling weapon in his father’s war against evil - as his father defined it, always and only.”

“As they’re an impediment to my plans, I resolved to remove them. Attracting Alycia Chin’s attention was the easiest part. Present evidence of her father - a vehicle for her to attain absolution for her sins - and she becomes predictable. I lured her into traps in Mexico and Egypt. Both times she escaped me, with the aid of allies.”

Pyrrhus nods appreciatively at a glowering Alycia. “A surprise, my dear. I was sure at first that you’d insist on working solo.”

Alycia says nothing. Jason is sure that she is trying to devise a plan of escape, the way he is. Right now the best strategy is “run for a vehicle”, and the biggest drawback to that strategy is “being gunned down by a dozen armed men”.

Pyrrhus continues. “I realized I needed a more robust strategy. She’d come to this meeting, of course, to trail the Cháwǎn to its source.”

He leans close to Jason and grins. “That’s what’s in those cargo crates, by the way. I’ll let Alycia fill you in - everyone else already knows what it is.”

“So I needed to get ahold of the one thing she couldn’t resist. Jason Quill.”

Alycia may be silent, but Jason feels like talking. “Your false Alycia Chin in Cairo was the bait, if our Atlantean entourage will forgive the term. But how could you have foreseen where the Dragonfly would take me?”

Pyrrhus blinks. “Oh? You still don’t know? I overrode the Dragonfly while you were out talking with my Mirror Alycia. When you got back in, you ordered it to a random destination. My programming simply took precedence.”

“That’s an impressive piece of hacking,” Jason admits.

“Oh it wasn’t hacking. I just used your access codes.”

Jason is confused. “Used my access codes? But the false Alycia…”

The light dawns. “The false Alycia didn’t need the codes. She told me she did. But - you already have my access codes. You’re some kind of clone, or parallel universe version, or–”

Pyrrhus cuts him off. “I’m none of those things.” He holds up a hand, and Jason watches the characteristic fluidity of nanomachines transform the hand into different shapes.

“Just like the Mirror Alycia,” Jason realizes aloud. “You’re all nanotech.” The pathways connect. “You’re my nanotech.”

Pyrrhus nods. “At the moment when you and Alycia were undergoing the Victory Merge. I budded off from you. I inherited Byron and Achilles from when you pithed them in the Sepiaverse. The resistance you encountered wasn’t just some security measure of Byron Quill’s. It was me, trying to stay alive when you two were trying to murder me!”

His face contorts, and Jason flinches back, instinctively, the way a younger Jason would have recoiled from an angry father. And he can see Alycia do the same.

Pyrrhus smooths his anger away, and smiles cordially. “Now. Alycia. I’m sure you have questions.”

“The Cháwǎn. You drugged the miners, and the soldiers. They’re addicted to despair. You’ve created human zombies.” She gestures to the Russian soldiers. “You sent miners to Khartoum. But how did you train them? Or were they special forces undercover at the mine?”

Pyrrhus grins. “You can thank Jenny Byrne for that.” He gestures to the girl, still standing nearby. “She’s quite talented with Quill-type nanotech now. She built a system to transfer skills from person to person. She gave the tech to Sidorov, Doctor Chin’s man from before. Sidorov works for me now, of course. I simply adapted her tech.”

He starts walking, and gesturing. “Think of it. The excision of free will, of resistance. The transformation of people into vessels. And from Byron Quill, the tool to fill those vessels with whatever knowledge one needs. The fusion of Quill and Chin is the key to the Mission!”

Jason doesn’t like the sound of this at all. “And what is the Mission?” he asks warily.

Pyrrhus turns and smiles. His eyes are wild. “Freedom, my boy. Freedom - what both Byron Quill and Achilles Chin wanted for the world, in their own ways. What Jason and Alycia wanted in their own lives. Freedom from fear, from want, from the horrors of responsibility.”

“You mean to do away with free will? Kind of predictable, isn’t it?” Jason asks.

“Oh no! Free will has its place. But think of all the times when it fails us as a species. Think of the times when a hive functions more efficiently. In art, in culture, we demand individuality. But in matters of production - food, medicine, and other essentials - we cannot leave such things to the whims of the capitalists or the inadequacies of the communists. Workers will be activated, trained, and placed as needed. When their work is done, they are free to live their lives as they wish. If someone assaults another, they can be neutralized.”

During the soliloquy, Jason and Alycia have been exchanging glances. An unspoken plan has started to form between them. But abruptly, Pyrrhus draws a pistol from one of the soldiers. Before the instinct to attack and flee has fully crystallized, the nanotech mastermind fires at them both.

1 Like

Don’t worry, they aren’t dead! And this story isn’t over. But I’m pausing here to check in with people. What do we think?


Well, when you put it that way, it does sound pretty dire. :crazy_face:

Adrenaline addiction. Always a danger in the action science world.

It’s big and grand and glorious and properly epic. It ties together a multitude of past events, uses the characters well, and adds new stuff to the mix. Well done!


Fully agree.