"How on Earth could someone be calling you here?" asked Anise.
"Well, the Duke did patch my phone through the timeship," said Edison, glancing at the screen of his phone. "Unknown number . . . should I answer it?"
"I'm as curious to know the caller as you are," said the Duke.
Edison tapped to answer and held the phone to his ear.
"Hello?" he said. There was a lot of sound in the background that sounded like street-noise.
"Duke! this is Captain Hwitwoo of the H.G.S. Gravid Heavy, requesting immediate assistance!" replied the phone.
"One moment," said Edison looking confused as he handed it to the Duke. "Uh . . . it's for you,"
"This is the Duke of Rathea."
"Duke, I repeat, this is Captain Hwitwoo of the Gravid Heavy currently in pursuit of unidentified hostiles. I request immediate assistance!"
"Captain, I will gladly assist. Where are you?" asked the Duke.
"My comms officer is sending our co-ordinates now. How soon can you reach us?" asked Hwitwoo.
"Twenty seconds ago," said the Duke. There was a musical message tone as the phone received a text, the Duke read the message, then passed the phone back to Edison and started twisting dials on the console.
"Where are we headed?" asked Edison, hanging up the phone.
"Right where we're needed," said the Duke. He pulled the ignition lever and as the column wheezed the ship began spinning through the time vortex. It was a short trip before the ship clunked, appearing on the side of the road, in the visage of a small, white delivery truck, with the words “Chateau du Rathé - est. 1811” on the side and underneath, in a black banner was the white logo of a woman chained to a rock. The two doors on the back of the truck swung open; because of the height, Anise and Edison sat down on the edge so as to step onto the sidewalk; The Duke locked the faux-freezer door in the back with the Lift key then jumped down heavily onto the ground beside his friends.
“I don't see Heavy,” said Anise, looking around.
“Who?” asked Edison.
“The Gravid Heavy. It's their spaceship's designation,” explained the Duke. “We're twenty seconds early, The Captain will arrive soon.”
As if on cue, what looked like a man in a business suit with a green tie appeared around the corner and came running down the street. The Duke closed the Lift's lorry doors and waved to the ship-android with both arms.
“Gravid!” he called. After a moment, Mr Heavy turned to see him.
“Duke, follow us! This way, quickly!” it called as it sped past.
The three of them began running.
“What's the situation, Captain?” asked the Duke as they ran down the footpath.
“We're in pursuit of two vehicles; black; possibly armoured.”
“Why?” asked Edison.”
“The vehicles are of Earth, but their technology signature is . . . aberrant.” the ship began to run ahead and turned back to look at the trio. “Can you run faster?”
“Don't let me slow you down,” said the Duke.
The ship sped up effortlessly and started making distance between them. Anise took a deep breath and ran faster, catching up, leaving the Duke and Edison behind. The two men just glanced at one another and tried to run faster.
“This is America,” said Edison, glancing at the cars driving on the right-hand side.
“Is it?” asked the Duke, idly.
“Yeah, Miami. Look at the number plates,” he said, gesturing at the cars.
Mr Heavy turned sharply around a corner, then across the road. Anise followed closely with him, but the Duke and Edison had to pause momentarily to dodge traffic. When they finally crossed the road, Gravid Heavy was heading through the bottom door of a small, cheap apartment building with two black utility vans parked haphazardly outside with blue lights around their bonnets; Anise followed close behind him.
“Come on!” commanded the Duke, heading for the door, but Edison grabbed his shoulder to stop him.
“Wait, look!” he said, pointing to the top of the building. The Duke saw long, dark-brown hair belonging to a woman standing up the top of the building with her back facing the street.
“Anise! Captain!” He called. “The roof!”
The woman's hair as well as her light, orange, floral-pattern dress moved slightly with the wind as she took a step back. Then she slowly raised her hands.
“It's some kind of standoff,” said Edison.
Then the woman fell back.
The Duke tried to run forward, reaching a hand into his coat to retrieve his spanner. Edison yelled out, wordless panic as he tried to grab the Duke and keep him back. The woman fell quickly, and Edison averted his eyes, but the Duke never shifted. He watched unblinking as she fell to the pavement.
“Oh . . . god!” yelled Edison as he heard the sound. The Duke then turned to him and held his shoulders to stop him from running over.
“She's gone,” said the Duke. “Her skull is . . . she couldn't survive that.”
Edison looked up at the roof once more, and saw a stony-faced man with short-cropped hair and a combat vest glance over the edge and holster his firearm. That's when the woman began to glow. The Duke saw the green light reflecting off of Edison's face and he turned to see the crumpled body on the floor glowing like a traffic light. Then, it burst into green flames. The two of them jumped back as the verdant flames flared, gleaming hot sending out waves of heat like a furnace. Then the body stood, like a living wick within the flame, and with a whoompf, the flames extinguished, and Edison and the Duke found themselves looking at a dark-haired Phillipino woman in a slightly-singed floral dress looking a little bit dazed and very much alive.
“No way . . .” murmured the Duke. The woman glanced up to the rooftop again, saw the military man, and started to stumble into a run, but the Duke quickly intercepted. “Stop, wait! I can help you.”
“Get back!” she screamed. “Stop, or I'll hurt you!”
“Listen to me, please. I know what you are,” said the Duke.
“You . . . do?” she said. On the roof, the man with the gun disappeared from the edge.
“Yes. I am like you as well, but we have to get out of this place now.”
The woman didn't respond. The Duke gestured for her to follow, impatiently.
“Who are you?” she asked, frowning.
“The Duke,” he said. “I have to get you out of here.”
“I'm Livia,” she replied, after a moment.
“Alright, Livia, come with me,” said the Duke, walking over and offering his hand. “And I'll show you what you are.”
After a moment she nodded, and took his hand. Anise and Mr Heavy appeared in the doorway to the building to see what had caused the green glow.
“Captain, we need to get out of here,” said the Duke.
“I'll slow them down, you go,” said the ship-android. The hologram receded from its raised right hand and in one sweeping motion it shot a red laser at the four tires of the black cars, deflating them; then Heavy ran into the building once more.
“What the hell is going on here?” asked Olivia, as the Duke lead her across the road.
“We're taking you to the ship. I can help you from there.”
“Ship? Duke, I feel strange . . . what do I look like now?” she asked, looking at her hand.
“You look well,” said the Duke. “All in one piece.”
“Good . . .” said Livia. Then she collapsed, and the Duke held her so that she wouldn't hit her head again. The veins in her face started to glow green as she lost consciousness.
“Help me get her up,” the Duke said, and Edison lifted her legs and helped the Duke to cradle her. “We have to get to the ship, quickly.”
“What's going on?” asked Anise as the Duke laid Livia down on the couch,.
“She's having a bad regeneration,” said the Duke as he readjusted his brown, leather duster. He ran to the console and brought up the medical scanner. “Brain damage is tricky, it requires a lot of focussed energy, the temperature could boil her brain, so to cool it she's . . . well, essentially she's on stand-by.”
“You know what this is?” said Edison, rhetorically. “She died and came back and you told her that you'd help because you were like her. What did you mean by that?”
The Duke bowed his head, solemnly and looked up from the console to face his friends.
“I'm alien, Inspector, in many ways. In fact, I'm unlike most creatures in these galaxies. When you die, your life will leave you never to return. However, when a Time Lord dies - and when I die - life clings to us. It transmutes all of the dead matter in our bodies into new, living cells; then jump-starts the life cycle all over again.”
“So . . . you can't die?”
“Quite the contrary, I can and I will, many times. But when I do I will be rejuvenated; reincarnated & reborn.”
“What the hell is everyone talking about?!” asked Anise, sounding flustered.
“She fell from the roof, hit her head and died,” said Edison. “Then spontaneously combusted, and came back to life.”
“How?” asked Anise, and she and Edison stared at the Duke.
“It's just regenerative energy; if we die, it can activate then invigorate us once more; but before we come back to life, we change. You can't live in a rotting corpse, so we change to a new, different body every time.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Edison, sounding incredulous. “You're saying that you'll live forever?”
“No. The process is imperfect - as it well should be - it's an inexact science; dangerous and unpredictable. Like with Livia, here, the process can cause damage; it needs to be treated delicately. In fact, if we're not careful she could die again, here and now, fatally.”
“Is that why those people were chasin' her, then? With the black, armoured cars?” said Anise.
“I have no idea; they could be the Eighty-Eight or they could be a Capitol marching band for all I know. So, for now, I'm just hoping that Livia can . . .” the Duke stopped and looked at the readout. “No way . . . that can’t be.”
“What is it?” asked Anise.
“There's a mutation, her organs are misaligned,” said the Duke.
“What does that mean?”
“Well . . . to be honest, I'm not sure. This regeneration must be worse than I suspected . . . I've never seen a green one before,” the Duke walked over to Livia and knelt down. “There's a scanner on the lower levels. Help me, we have to get her there for a more detailed analysis.”
Edison helped cradle her head as the Duke once more picked her up and all three of them headed into the elevator-lobby. It looked like the inside of the lorry, with crates all around, stamped with the logo of a woman chained to a rock. The door into the ship itself was disguised as a fridge with a sliding door, complete with the illusion of wine bottles stacked inside. The fridge door closed, then the Duke opened up a hidden panel on the side of the fridge and pressed a button. With a grinding sound all around, they 'descended' motionlessly before a voice announced: 'Geometrics', and the fridge door slid open revealing a round, silver room with a raised platform in the centre and delicate machinery comprising the domed roof. The Duke laid Livia in the center, carefully, then stepped off the platform. Automatically, the lights grew brighter and four curved, glass panels lowered down.
“Are you sure this is safe?” asked Edison. “Last time this happened, the ship attacked me.”
“What did you say?” asked the Duke, surprised.
A holographic, blue, wireframe cylinder appeared and a membrane of light passed over Livia, then images appeared on all of the glass panels. Ignoring the Inspector, the Duke stepped up to image which looked like a standing circulatory system; a beating heart with twisted red and blue veins in a vaguely female shape.
“No, that can't be right,” said the Duke. “She has only one heart.”
“Is that . . . bad?” asked Anise.
“It is for a Time Lord,” said the Duke.
“Maybe she's not a Time Lord,” said Anise.
“Computer?” asked the Duke, tapping the screen. “Identify species.”
“Species: Homo sapiens,” replied a mechanical, female voice.
“That doesn't make any sense,” said the Duke, stroking his beard. “None of this makes any sense, why would she regenerate if she's human?”
Edison had wandered around the room looking at each of the panels.
“What about this? It looks unusual” said Edison, stopping at a screen “Is this her nervous system?”
The Duke walked around and joined him at the screen with a green outline of a brain, connected to what looked like green wires in a human-like shape. But the image was scattered with bright yellow and orange blotches.
“No . . .” said the Duke, stepping closer and speaking half-mindedly. “No, that's her psychical system. The way her mind interacts with the physical world.”
“Is that stuff brain damage?”
“No, that looks like regenerative energy, all stored in her brain. But it's chaotic . . .”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that someone has crammed this woman's head full of some kind of . . . some kind of pseudo-regenerative energy.” said the Duke, shaking his head. “It's diabolical.”
“Why would someone do that?” asked Anise.
“You mean besides living forever,” said Edison
“It's not forever, Inspector,” said the Duke. “It's just . . . longer; but it wouldn't work for a human, anyway. This is most likely an experiment. Perhaps she did it to herself, or perhaps she’s the victim. We’ll have to ask her.”
“Well, we can't do that when she's knocked out, can we?” said Edison
“I'll wake her up, then.” said the Duke. “If it's in her brain, then it's connected to her mind, if I reorganize and calm her mind, then the electromagnetic energy should focus the chaotic energy.”
“Alright,” said Edison. He stared at the Duke for a moment. “Then, why don't you do that?”
“It's chaotic energy,” said the Duke. “It would be risky . . . mixing minds with that kind of instability-”
Anise gave the Duke a shove in the shoulder. He barely moved, but he looked insulted.
“Don't be so chicken!” said Anise. “Y'know, for an immortal, you're a real wimp.”
“I'm not immortal . . .” growled the Duke.
“Whatever you say, Highlander,” says Anise with a smirk. “Now go help her.”
The glass panels went blank and receded into the ceiling, then the Duke stepped up to Livia and knelt down beside her. With one hand, he pulled her into a sitting position, and with the other, he grasped her head so that both of their foreheads were together.
After a tense moment, Livia's veins glowed with a green pulse, then she opened her eyes. Immediately she flinched and almost knocked heads with the Duke.
“Get off me!” she yelled.
The Duke fell to the side as she scrambled to get up.
“Hey, it's alright,” said Anise moving closer. “He was helping you, we're here to help.”
“Cuz don't need to be that close to help,” she said, holding up a hand to halt Anise. She brushed herself off, and when she saw the singed marks over her dress she sighed heavily. “What the hell is goin' on?”
“We're figuring that out, still,” said Edison.
“Nuh uh, no figurin'. You . . . he,” says Livia, pointing accusingly at the Duke on the floor, “Duke said you could help. You know what's goin' on, and I want to know it!”
“I'm afraid I don't know,” said the Duke, getting to his feet. “I thought you were an alien-”
Livia responded with a snort of derision.
“ . . . like me,” continued the Duke, frowning. “However, the scanner indicates that you're human, you've just been implanted - or infected - with a chaotic, regenerative energy.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means we're still figuring it out,” said Edison.
“But you can help us find the answers,” said the Duke. “We need to know more about you; when you first noticed this was happening and who those people are, that were chasing you.”
“I don't know who they are,” Livia said, shaking her head. She frowned and sighed, looking sad and weary. “I just ran, y'know? I thought they were cops or somethin', they showed up at my place, thought I’d killed people. But they weren’t cops, they looked more like soldiers.”
“Did you see any badges or insignia? Distinct colours on their uniforms?” said Edison.
“They weren’t really wearing 'uniforms' . . . I dunno.”
“Don't worry about that, then,” said the Duke. “When did this start?”
“I don't know!” she yelled, frustrated. “Do you know what it's like to have someone take a spoon and stir up your brain?”
“Yes,” said the Duke. “It's confusing, I know, but it's all there. Just . . . in different places. When did it all start?”
Livia sighed and closed her eyes, and spoke slowly, remembering.
“I'd had a lot of bad luck,” she said. “I lost a lot of money, and my boyfriend . . .”
“Left you?” asked Anise. Livia shook her head.
“No, he was a criminal. He got himself - and me - into all kinds of trouble. I lost my job because of him . . . and my car. Then he died - got shot.” Livia nodded as the memories came back. “It wasn't fair he was a good guy, just not a good . . . person. I was lost, then, so I went to see the houngan-”
“The what?” said the Duke.
“Well, he’s like a priest. Sort of . . .” she mumbled, “I'm sèvitè, a servant of the spirits.”
“What does that mean?” asked Edison.
“Voodoo,” she said, shrugging. “Look, it's how I was raised. I've never had much faith in it, but it's what I know. Either way, I went to see him, and he held a little service for me. I asked if he could help me to put my life back together, and he said he could. For a while, things got better and I felt better . . . but then they took a bad turn.”
“What do you mean?” asked the Duke.
“I lost everything, and more; and Patrice's friends came after me . . .” she sighed. “I was cursed. I didn't know what to do.”
Suddenly, Edison's phone rings.
“It must be the Captain,” said the Duke.
“Of course,” said Edison, tapping to answering the phone. “This is the Inspector.”
“This is Captain Hwitwoo, where are you?” asked the Captain.
“We're in the Lift,” said Edison.
“I don't understand. What is your location?”
“Uh . . . we're in the Duke's ship. It's disguised like a lorry; we're parked where you first ran past us; we're in the back.”
“I understand - Officer Whiyoo, set in the co-ordinates,” said the Captain.
“Look, do you want to talk to the Duke?”
“We will, momentarily,” said Captain Hwitwoo. “Until then, prepare for our arrival.”
The call ended with a beep.
“He hung up on me,” said Edison.
“Who was that?” asked Anise.
“Captain Wee-woo. He said he's on his way,” said Edison.
“Hwitwoo,” corrected the Duke. “What else did he say?”
“That's it,” said Edison.
“Well then,” said the Duke. “We should prepare for their arrival.”
After returning to the console room Anise and Livia were sitting on the couch talking while the Duke & Edison stood by the console.
“What now?” asked Livia.
“Now, we want to help you,” said Anise. “We're just tryin' to find out who did this to you, and who's chasin' you.”
“The spirits did this to me,” said Livia. “When I saw René, the houngan, I begged him for help and after he called on the spirits, they cursed me to be this way.”
“Do you think they're the ones chasing you?” asked Anise.
“No. The Mystères aren't evil, they don't hunt sèvitè.”
“Then who would want to hurt you?” asked Edison, sounding more like a cop than he had in uniform.
“At first, I thought those people were from Patrice's gang, but they were much too organized to be street ruffians.”
“Duke?” called out the muffled voice of H.G.S. Gravid Heavy. The Duke walked to the elevator door, and it opened automatically. In the 'lorry' lobby, the starship was looking around, confused.
“In here,” said the Duke, and the starship followed into the console room.
“Is this the same ship?” asked Mr Heavy, speaking for Captain Hwitwoo.
“Yes, just a different shape of outer plasmic shell,” said the Duke.
“Fascinating . . .” said the Captain. “Master Duke, I'm afraid that the hostile agents have escaped.”
“They attempted to flee in their vehicles. With deflated tires they were slowed down considerably, but somehow they turned down an empty alleyway and disappeared.”
“Gee, that sounds frustrating,” said Anise in a monotone.
“It was quite confusing. We scanned the surroundings and there were no spatial anomalies; our assumption is that they've utilized some form of large-scale teleporter.”
“Large-scale?” asked Edison.
“Large from our perspective,” said Hwitwoo.
“Oh, right . . .” said Edison, stepping closer. “I keep forgetting that you're a spaceship. You look so human.”
The Gravid Heavy stood up straight and stiff, then lowered the veil; each square voxel of the hologram flickering away to reveal the detailed, starship-android underneath, and for the first time, as the face dissipated to reveal the oval-shaped window of the command deck within the ship's head, Edison found himself face-to-face with the little caterpillars from the planet Ceris.
“What the hell is going on?” asked Livia.
“It's alright,” said the Duke, heading over to Livia. “These are friends of ours, I'd like you to meet Captain Hwitwoo of the H.G.S. Gravid Heavy. Captain, this is Livia.”
The Duke coaxed her over towards the little starship.
“You're the one the agents were chasing?” asked the Captain.
Livia stared for a moment, looking scared and confused.
“Is that little thing in there talking to me?” she asked, pointing.
“That little thing is a captain,” the Duke whispered in her ear. “Try to show some respect.”
“It's alright,” said Captain Hwitwoo. “Rest assured, you look as disturbing to us as we - no doubt - do to you.”
“Thanks,” said Livia bluntly.
“Because of your size,” reiterated the Captain. “Miss Livia-”
“Miss D'ath,” said Livia. “Olivia is my first name.”
“Alright. Miss D'ath, we are attempting to locate the people that were after you. They have technology beyond this planet, and - if you’re any indication - they have hostile intentions towards extra-terrestrial phenomena.”
“I don't know who they are, or what half of that meant,” said Livia. “So, why are you telling me?”
“Because they’ve disappeared, but clearly they're looking for you. They found you once, they might find you again, if they get the chance.”
“So, you're here to protect me?”
“Not exactly. Our mission is to capture the agents.”
“You're following the bait,” said the Duke, coldly.
“We will do what we can to keep everyone safe,” said the Captain. “And while we're within this ship, it's doubtful that they can track her. However, if she were more exposed, I'm certain that they will make themselves known.”
“We're not putting her at risk, again. We've only just saved her from those people.”
“Master Duke, you are here because we requested your assistance in pursuing these unknown persons,” said Hwitwoo. “Until we capture them, remove them or render them harmless, our mission is incomplete. Other concerns are beside the point.”
“I won't let them harm her,” said the Duke.
“She will merely be a catalyst,” said the Captain. “And we will be there to protect her. After our last encounter, we chose to retain the Gravid Heavy's vigilant, humanitarian programming.”
“How noble of you.”
“Nobility was irrelevant, we deemed those actions less conspicuous.”
“I'm curious. Is there a Ceridian word for 'tact'?” said the Duke.
“I don't follow you, Duke,” said Captain Hwitwoo.
“If it matters,” said Livia, stepping forward. “I don't think those people, the 'agents' or whatever, I don't think they wanted to hurt me.”
The Duke slowly turned to look at her, his face one of disbelief and confusion.
“They threw you off a roof.”
“No, they didn't. I fell. It was an accident, I was scared and I backed too far.They wanted me to detain me. It was an accident that I fell.”
“An accident?” said the Duke, raising his eyebrow and stroking his beard. “They were pointing guns at you.”
“They told me I was a murderer and they wanted me to come with them. If I did as they said, I don't think they would have shot at me.” said Livia.
“Then the matter is settled,” said Hwitwoo. “We should set up the trap.”
“Wait, hold on, what is everyone saying?” asked Edison, from the raised platform. “Because from over here, it sounds like you want to lure out a bunch of armed military types - who, need I remind you, are armed with alien technology - with an innocent civilian that we've just met.”
“An astute summary of our situation will not divert our determination,” said the Captain.
“Captain, going after these people is a worthy mission, and I will help you in any way that I can. But can you assure me that she won't be harmed.”
“They don't want to hurt me,” interrupted Livia, sounding annoyed. “And even if they did, I don't know if you've noticed, but every time I die I come back.”
“Not every time,” said the Duke through gritted teeth, and turned to look right into Livia's eyes. “Only twelve times. Being given more than one life does not make any individual lifetime less precious, unless you haven't noticed you're not a juvenile. You regenerate as a grown woman, and since you're human that means you return with only half a life, or less. And what if they use the transmat to steal you away? What if they torture you? Dying isn't the worst thing that can happen to you, Olivia D'ath. And for all we know, they might want to scoop this power out of your brain and use it for themselves, and then you'd die for a final time. You’re not invincible, you’re not even immortal, you just have a dozen second chances.”
“I want to help,” said Livia, stubbornly. “What the hell else am I gonna do? They know where I live, and I don't have anything left for me. You want to take all of this risk for me, well it's my life - lives . . . don't I have the right to fight for them?”
The Duke narrowed his eyes slightly, with a furrowed brow, as he stared at her, but he didn't say anything for a moment, instead he just nodded and whispered: “You're right.”
“Alright, then. We should get started; raise the veil,” said Captain Hwitwoo, and in seconds, the exposed ship-android was covered with the lifelike hologram of an English businessman with a green tie. “Where should we set the trap?”
The Lift, still in the visage of a compact wine truck, vworped through reality to appear parked on the side of a suburban street. The back doors opened and Livia slipped down onto the ground from the back of the truck while the crew stood within the interior.
“I wish I could get a change of clothes,” muttered Livia, brushing some of the ash off her dress, which was slightly singed around the edges, with some holes burnt around the stomach and skirts.
“You're fleeing a hostile force, it's appropriate to look a little tattered,” said the Duke.
“Do you think René will be safe?” asked Livia, looking across the street at the priest's house. “I'll come quietly, so they won’t hurt him, will they?”
“I'll be with you,” said the Duke. Then the Duke jumped down from the back of the truck and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I'll do what I can to keep everyone safe.”
“Won't you make them suspicious?”
“You ran away with me,” said the Duke. “It makes sense that we'd stay together.”
“Okay,” said Livia, and she started walking.
“Stay hidden,” the Duke said to his companions, then he joined Livia as they crossed the street.
“Your van's parked backwards,” said Livia.
“I'm used to the United Kingdom, I usually land on that side of the road,” said the Duke dismissively. “Livia, I want you to be honest with me.”
“I am,” said Livia. “I haven't lied.”
“Yes, but you haven't given voice to all of the truths either, have you?” said the Duke, glancing at her as they stepped up on the curb, and he halted her, with a hand on her shoulder, turning her to make her look in his eyes. “How did you die the first time?”
“Does it matter?” she asked.
“It matters to me,” said the Duke. Livia looked at the Duke, then she looked at her feet.
“I killed myself,” she said, quietly, almost a whisper. “I'd lost my boyfriend, I’d lost my new job and those guys were coming after me for money, I didn't know what I could do.”
“Oh, Livia . . .” murmured the Duke, with a frown.
“I went into the bathtub, but we didn't have any razors . . . I-”
“Hush, now,” said the Duke, wrapping her in his arms. “You don't have to relive it.”
“But I do . . .” she said with a sniff, her voice quivering. “It all went black. Then it all glowed green, and I woke up on fire. And now I have to relive it all over again.”
“And the rooftop? It wasn't an accident, was it?” asked the Duke. Livia shook her head.
“And are those the only two occasions on which you've died?” asked the Duke.
“No . . .” said Livia. “I didn't do it, though. when Patrice’s boys showed, they didn't recognize me, but they saw the blood and thought I'd killed . . . well, me. They shot me.”
“Livia, I want you to listen very carefully to me. My companions and I are here to help you, to capture these people that are after you. I don't want you to compromise this mission for my friends and I, or the Gravid Heavy's crew. So, be perfectly honest with me: If this is some kind of death wish, inform me now and we will stop this right here.”
“No, no, please,” she said, sniffling and shaking her head. “It's nothing like that. I just want to help. I'm okay, really, I want to see this through. I don’t want to burn again.”
“Good,” said the Duke, with a stern look on his face. “Then let's do this.”
They stepped up to the front door, decorated with wind chimes, colourful beads and a sign which read 'Miamian Vodou Temple - Father René'. Livia rang the buzzer.
Meanwhile, in the back of the truck-shaped Lift, Anise and Edison were watching, intrigued.
“I don't get it. Why would the agents find her at her priest's house?” asked Anise.
“Because they found her at her apartment,” said Edison. “So, surely, they'd be monitoring where she’s been known to frequent, like the pub, grocery store, mother's house or place of worship. If I was looking for her, that's what I'd do, so hopefully they'll be keeping an eye on this location, and her presence will lure them here.”
“How long should that take?”
“Don't worry,” said Mr Heavy, “It shouldn't be too long. It wasn't last time.”
The front door opened and a short, elderly black man stood before the pair of them. He opened the screen door and stepped out, looking a little confused.
“Can I help you?” he asked, with a French accent..
“Yeah,” said Livia. “René I know it's weird, but I came here over a month ago, do you remember?”
“I swear I've never set eyes on you before today, my dear,” said René.
“Please,” said Livia, looking a little saddened. “René, it's me . . . I've come here over a dozen times. I came here because my boyfriend had died, Patrice Meunier? I wanted a better life.”
“You must have me confused, I'm afraid,” said René, shaking his head. “I'm not the only houngan in Lemon City.”
“Please, René. It's me: Olivia D'ath.”
René stopped and stared at Livia with a deep frown.
“Liv . . .?” he said, and after a moment, his eyes went watery and he shook his head. “You're not her.”
“I am, René, I need your help.”
“No, get off my property,” said the old man, making a sweeping motion with his hands, as though to shoo them away. “Liv died weeks ago. She was shot by a gang of punk kids.”
“I know. I was shot,” said Livia. “But I came back, because of something you did.”
“Please, Father, listen to us,” said the Duke. “We would like your help.”
“I didn't do anything, and I don't know who you are!” said the old man, sounding angry.
“Not directly,” said the Duke. “But some kind of psychical presence has imbued her mind with a powerful, alien energy.”
“I haven't done anything to you people; I'm no bokor, just a priest. Now leave me alone, or I will call the police.”
“No! Father René, please!” cried Livia. But Father René slammed the door closed and locked it.
“No, come back!”
“Livia, stop,” said the Duke calmly, grabbing her shoulders.
“No!” she yelled, trying to shrug him off, but he was too strong.
“We came here to draw the agents to us. If they're watching us, they'll be here soon.”
“I want to know what he did to me!” she said, pulling away.
“He doesn't know,” said the Duke. “He's human, he couldn't have done this himself.”
“Then who?” said Livia, her voice full of emotion. “Who would do this to me?”
“Livia, look at me,” said the Duke, and he spoke again only when she looked into his eyes. “We are here on a mission, to find out the truth. If you want to help me find the answers to your questions, you need to calm down.”
Livia took a breath and nodded. Down the end of the street, two black SUVs suddenly screeched around the corner, and sped down the street towards them, each with blue lights flashing along either side of the windscreen.
“That was quick,” said Livia, a little shocked.
“Transmat. Fastest way to travel,” said the Duke.
As the cars pulled up in front of the house, the sun shone off the shiny, black bonnet such that the name engraved on the front fender was visible: TORCHWOOD.
“Put your hands up!” yelled a man in a camo-patterned uniform with a crew cut as he stepped out of the car, pointing a pistol at Livia; the Duke recognized him as the man from the rooftop. The Duke held his hands out in front of him, palms out, while Livia rose her arms above her head.
“Who are you?” asked the Duke.
“Lieutenant Wallace Knight,” said the man, with a heavy Londonian accent. “Who are you?”
“I'm the Duke of Rathea,” said the Duke, as he spoke a strong-looking Greek man walked around the side of the car. The Greek man wore an unbuttoned white shirt, over a black singlet and jeans; he had a bronze tan, scraggly brown hair down to his chin, hidden under a white baseball cap that obscured his face, a beard and was muscled like a wrestler. As he stood before the Duke & Livia, the Greek pointed a weapon at Livia that at a glance looked like a mechanized, purple cobra.
“Step away from the girl,” said Wallace.
“I'm here to protect 'the girl', stepping away wouldn't be counter-intuitive,” said the Duke.
“We won't harm her if she comes quietly.”
“That would be more convincing if you lowered your weapon,” said the Duke.
“If I lower the gun, will you step away?” asked Wallace.
The Duke considered this for a moment.
“Probably not,” he replied.
“Haitch, shoot him,” said Wallace.
As the Greek man turned his gun on the Duke, the Duke dove to the side, reaching into his coat. He landed on his side on the grass as a short bolt from the snake-gun shot over his head, hitting the house and sending spidery sparks of electricity crawling over the surface. The Duke pulled out the laser spanner, and clicked it, making the end fizzle with a purple spark. Instantly, the snake-gun recoiled, snapping shut and turning off. Seizing the moment, Wallace lowered his gun, ran at Livia and grabbed her as though in a tight hug, but a white light enveloped them and with a dull hum, they were enveloped by a white flash and teleported up and away. The Duke scanned the spot with his spanner, when the Greek man holstered the weapon on his belt and ran over to the Duke. With one hand, he grabbed the Duke's collar and pulled him to his feet.
“Why do you defy us?” asked the man, in a deep, throaty voice. “Do you worship the false gods?”
“I worship no man or god,” said the Duke through gritted teeth. “Now get your hands off of me!”
Over the man's shoulder, Duke saw the Gravid Heavy run over, and throw a full-strength punch at the man's right kidney. The man flinched slightly, then spun and slammed the Duke into Mr Heavy, throwing both of them back. The Duke landed on top of the starship, over five metres away, the surface hologram cushioning his landing.
“He is stronger than his physique would imply,” said Captain Hwitwoo as the Duke stood up and after adjusting his brown duster-coat, offered a hand to help the ship up as well, but Mr Heavy ignored the Duke's hand. “Duke, did you analyze that teleporter?”
“I did, the Lift's computer can follow it.”
“Good,” said Mr Heavy. Then, blasting the manoeuvring thrusters mounted on his shoulders, he returned to his feet. “We'll subdue the strongman, you follow Livia.”
As Mr Heavy returned to the fight, the Duke ran back to his ship.
“What happened?” asked Anise, helping the Duke step into the back of the truck.
“Livia's been taken, but I scanned the transmat beam,” said the Duke, leading them into the console room and looked at the nearest panel. “The ship should be calculating their position . . . yes! They're not too distant . . .”
The Duke adjusted a holographic screen, relayed the co-ordinates into the navigational panel, walked over to that octant of the console, checked the position and turned to his companions.
pulled the ignition lever.
With a clunk, the the centre column began shifting and the ship groaned, wheezed and spun around slightly as they dematerialized and flew through the vortex. As quickly as they'd left, the Duke returned the lever and they landed with a dull thud.
“Where are we?” asked Anise.
“We appear to be in orbit,” said the Duke. He peeled away from the console and headed for the door, but stopped as he approached the door. “It's probably dangerous out there. Brace yourselves.”
With that, Edison drew his gun and Anise took a deep breath. Then, the Duke lead them out of the console room, through the Lift lobby and opened the doors. They had landed in a huge room with round, metal panelled walls that glowed with an orange light within horizontal recesses and a shiny, black floor. There were four round doorways leading out along one half of the round room with wedge-shaped sliding doors. However, despite the look of the alien cargo hold, the room was full of Earth vehicles: Two SUVs with popped tires & a blue motorcycle.
The Duke jumped down from the Lift, and headed for the only open doorway, Anise and Edison close behind. They stepped out to find themselves in a curved hallway that seemed to wrap around the cargo hold, with archways, doorways and walkways leading off.
“What will we do when we find Livia?” asked Anise, whispering.
“We'll try to get her back safely. If we do, you can lead her back to the Lift. The Inspector and I will try to find out more about these 'Torchwood' agents,” said the Duke, softly.
After a moment, they heard voices, and the Duke followed the sound a short distance to another doorway, this one closed. There was a white, slightly translucent stone on the archway which bordered the door, and the Duke pressed it. The doors slid open, revealing Lieutenant Wallace, Livia & a brown-haired woman in a business skirt and jacket, in a room lined with prison cells made of some kind of glass, so they looked like large shower cubicles around the edge; some of them weren't empty.
“Get her out of here!” he ordered, and the brunette grabbed Livia's arm and walked smartly out of the room heels clacking against the floor before closing the door behind them.
“Drop the gun!” yelled Edison, pointing his gun.
“Disarm yourself or you'll regret it,” added the Duke, pointing his laser spanner.
Wallace looked back and forth between the two of them, then dropped his gun and kicked it to the side of the room, in front of a cell occupied by a wrinkly, alien in a blue, plastic jumpsuit without a nose, with fangs in an ape-like mouth, little beady eyes and no hair.
Wallace turned to the sound and when he saw the Duke he drew his weapon.
“There, that's much safer,” said the Duke.
“Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that,” said Wallace with a smirk, and suddenly his eyes dilated and turned black. he hunched forward, grunting; then he stood up straight and made a disturbing cracking sound. He writhed and groaned, throwing off his vest and shirt as his grinding and snapping bones transformed him; his mouth and nose grew outward and his ears pointed, all while he grew fur over his body.
Edison fired his gun twice, but even as each shot hit centre mass, the beast merely flinched as though being flicked with peas.
“What's happening?!” yelled Edison.
“He's infected with an alien parasite,” said the Duke, as he adjusted his laser spanner. “I've seen it before. Lupine Wavelength Haemovariform.”
“He's a what?” asked Anise.
“He's a werewolf!” yelled Edison in disbelief, as the beast took shape. Now a metre taller, it arched its back and howled at the ceiling. Then it turned its black eyes on the other three in the room, snarling and drooling. “We're dead, aren't we?”
“No, we're not dead, Inspector Edison. I have a laser spanner,” said the Duke matter-of-factly, holding up the device pointedly.
“A spanner? Well, so what?!” asked Edison as the creature began to advance on them, closing the distance, ready to pounce.
“So, 'laser'; it can project light,” said the Duke, adjusting it further. “All kinds of light: Laserlight; hard light; infrared light . . . even moonlight.”
The Duke pointed his spanner at the werewolf, and projected a pale, blue light onto the creature's face. Where the light touched, the fur and physique receded and became human once more, the Duke waved the light back and forth, burning away the wolf.
“Alright, run!” said the Duke, grabbing his companions, and they ran past the stunned looking Wallace as the wolf-form began to reassert itself. The Duke used his spanner to open the door, the lock it behind them. As the infection crawled up his chest, Wallace glanced, stunned at the door the Duke had just left through.
“How in the hell did he do that?” asked Wallace, then the wolf took over his face and roared with fury.
“What the hell is going on?” asked Edison.
“I don't know,” said the Duke, leading them down the hallway. “But that man was infected with an alien parasite and his other friend was stronger than his physique should have allowed. Considering that Livia, has also been experimented on with alien energy . . . whatever Torchwood is, it's rife with alien influence.”
“With that and the bald monkey-man in there, this place feels like some kind of freakshow, collecting up alienated weirdos,” said Edison. “ Wolfman, Strongman, Apeman . . . Immortal Girl.”
“We can't rule out any possibility,” said the Duke, as he turned a corner and lead them up a set of stairs, “Perhaps we'll know more once we find Livia.”
The Duke kept ahead and opened the door with the laser spanner, revealing a tall room. To the far left was an alcove surrounded by windows which looked down on Earth from space, in the alcove was a man in a plaid shirt sitting in a study chair in front of a console panel covered in runes. In the middle of the room stood the brunette in heels alongside Livia who was in handcuffs, and to the right sat a little alien with grey, mottled skin; a big head; skinny arms & large, black eyes with a small, metal device where its eyebrow would have been. The creature was sitting at a desk console like some kind of Roswellian secretary. There were several more people working at consoles off to the right past the holographic screen.
“Director, the intruders have breached the command deck,” said the grey alien, speaking in a soft, wavering voice. “Should I teleport them away?”
“Not just yet,” said the brunette in a calm, dignified voice. She held a shotgun low her hip, pointed at the three intruders and pumped it once. “I don't think they're going to misbehave.”
“We're just here to help Livia,” said the Duke.
“You're not alone in that respect,” she said. “But your rap sheet of damaging our property, assaulting my staff, invading this office and hindering our every move has yet to impress me.”
“Impress you,” said the Duke, holding his hands in front of him. “From my perspective, she's died once in your care, she's safer in my hands than yours.”
The woman raised the gun to her shoulder in a proper shotgun stance.
“Wait, stop!” said the man in the plaid shirt. He was a short Asian man with an American accent. “Heather, I know these people.”
“You do?” she said, giving him a sidelong glance and a raised eyebrow.
“Yes. These people rendered the alien technology at the Mauna Loa facility inert.”
“Steven?” said Anise, shocked.
“You know him?” said Edison.
“Yeah, so do you. Don't you remember? Hawaii? We were trapped in that freezin' office with the cyber-rats.”
“Oh yeahh . . . Steve. Steve Hatchy-patchy or something . . .”
“Hajikoma,” corrected Steven.
“Yes, that's right. You look different without the lab coat.”
“You look different without the police vest. Heather, these were the people that discovered the cyber-tech in the first place.”
“Can they be trusted?” she asked.
“I don't see why not, they saved the planet.”
“Well, how about that?” said Heather, finally lowering the shotgun. “I do apologize, we were taking precautions. You can't be too careful where alien phenomena are involved. Loki, bring our boys up here, will you; we're at a ceasefire.”
“Of course,” said the grey alien, adjusting his console. “Lieutenant Knight is terrorizing the hallways.”
“I'm the Duke of Rathea,” said the Duke. “But I still don't understand, why is Steven here? What is this place? Why do you want Livia? And why is there an Asgard at the front desk?”
“Yes, of course. Allow me to introduce Loki, our science officer. You know Steven, and you've met Heracles and Wallace our tactical officers and front-line agents. In the back, there's Judith and Sugar, our researcher-medic and mechanic, respectively,” she said, gesturing past the holographic screen with the shotgun, while still pointing it safely towards the ground. “And I'm Director Waterhouse. Welcome to Torchwood Four.”
“You may trust us, but I'm not sure if I trust you. Why did you come after Livia?” asked the Duke.
“That's our job,” said Heather, “we investigate alien phenomena and resolve it so that the people of Earth can be safe. Whether that means capturing alien criminals or saving those afflicted by alien influence.”
“And the guns?” said Anise.
“We took necessary precautions to ensure our safety,” said Heather. “Before witnessing the spontaneous combustion for ourselves, we thought that a serial shapeshifter was killing, burning and replacing several female victims. We didn't realize that all of the victims were the same person; and even then, we didn't know whether she was hostile.”
“Well, I'm not,” said Livia, sounding annoyed that she was being talked about and yet ignored. “Do I really need handcuffs?”
“We'll remove them if you're willing to co-operate; as soon as Wallace manages to cool off, he has the key on his belt.”
“Alright then,” said the Duke. “I'm glad that we're all on the same side, here. But there's still the issue of how to deal with this energy in her head, and who put it there.”
“We're still working on that. But that's why we're here, there's a scanner in the aft section of the bridge.”
“I've already scanned her. It's some kind of pseudo-regenerative energy.”
“But you didn't scan her with my equipment,” said Loki, stepping out from behind the desk. He was half the Duke's height, and two-thirds the height of everyone else. “And with a superior intellect we should easily find a way to remove the foreign energy.”
“Superior intellect?” said Edison, clearing his throat.
“Of course. The Asgard have dealt with mental infiltration of this manner before. Follow me.”
“Why does every alien seem to think it's smarter than us?” Anise whispered to Edison as they followed Loki into the lab.
“It's better to let them think that,” Edison whispered back. “It might come as an advantage one day.”
Livia hovered parallel to the ground, suspended in the air with one of Loki's devices, which looked like four large claws reaching out of the floor, with a large orb suspended above, connected to a series of twisted wires in the ceiling. Anise and Edison spoke with Steven Hajikoma and the other two members of staff: Judith Nevins, a short woman with a ponytail, a slight hunch and a cane & 'Sugar' Brown, a black mechanic from London; Steven was explaining what had happened in Hawaii and how Torchwood had picked him up from the hospital after he'd told them about the alien technology there. Meanwhile, Loki and the Duke were discussing the scanner data while Heather oversaw everything.
“The foreign energy, and her own neuro-electric signal are intertwined,” said Loki, looking over the complicated image on the scanner, which looked an infinite electrical circuit.
“Well, it's part of her brain and what keeps her alive, it would have to be connected,” said the Duke. “It must be a powerful psychic force. The question is how do we separate her from it?”
“Can I come down now?” asked Livia.
“Oh, yes, of course,” said Loki, and shifting one of the stones on the control panel, Livia was turned upright and she returned to her feet. As Loki returned to analyze the image, a voice came through the room, through unseen speakers.
“Loke? This is Wallace, do you read me?”
“I hear you, Lieutenant,” said Loki, after pressing a button on a nearby panel, replacing the image with a live video feed of Wallace from the shoulders up. He was topless and looked out of breath.
“We have a big problem down here. One of the weevils has escaped containment.”
“Could you capture it yourself? We're indisposed at the moment,” said Loki.
“No. That's the thing, Loke, it's armed, it got my Browning.”
“Alright. Join me on the command deck. We're here with the intruders, they've been classified as unhostile.”
“On my way,” said Wallace, and the intercom went silent.
“What's a weevil?” asked Anise.
“They're a kind of alien vermin, they look like a skinny, shaved ape,” said Heather. “They're not very smart and can't really communicate, but they can be fast and vicious when they want to be. Where's the spray?”
“I've got a can,” said Judith, standing up and limping over, with a canister in hand. “They've never used guns before, Loki, can you find its heat signature?”
“Now, there no need for all that, I'm right here,” said a guttural voice over by the doorway. Everyone turned to see the noseless, wrinkly alien walking up the steps into the command centre. He held Wallace's gun in one hand, although both hands rested at his side; its eyes were a bright, crimson red; but, most unusual, he spoke with a heavy, Cajun accent.
Every other gun, spray canister and laser spanner in the room was raised and pointed at the intruder.
“Stop right there!” commanded Director Waterhouse, raising her shotgun.
“Cool your head, putain, or I'll switch it off,” said the weevil. “Ain't ya'll havin' a good time?”
“What are you?” said Waterhouse. “Weevils don't speak, and their eyes aren't red either.”
“God damn, tuat t'en grosse bueche,” muttered the alien, and he swatted at the air. Instantly, the shotgun was ripped from the director's hands and thrown across the room, clattering harmlessly behind the weevil.
“It was you,” said the Duke. “You're the powerful, psychic force?”
“Aw shucks,” said the weevil sarcastically. “I won't say 'powerful', but I'm mighty sharp.”
“Why did you infect Olivia with this alien energy?” asked the Duke.
“She asked fo' it,” said the weevil darkly.
“I didn't ask for this!” cried Livia.
“No? You call on me t'fix your life. I did, in return all I ask for is prayer, and you to pledge Patrice' remains afore Fête d'Ghede,” said the weevil, stepping closer and gesturing emphatically. “That day come, I got neither, so I come take it back and make you pay.”
“So you think you're here to pass judgement?” asked the Duke.
“I'm here to get what I is owed, nègre!” growled the creature. “I am the Baron, and my judgement is final!”
“She's suffered enough,” said the Duke.
“Oh, has she?” said the Baron, sarcastically. “L'pute learn her lesson? Because to me, it look like she bein' saved by a flock o' white knights who don't know what they're doin. How is she gonn' learn, if you're tryin' t' take away my lesson? I make her suffer so much, she wants to die, and I make her so she can't die, now that's clever . . . but then you couillon come, give her hope; raison de vivre. And that just ain't sufferin' . . .”
“You did all of this to make her suffer?” said the Duke, angrily. “That's sick!”
“Naw, that ain't sick. This is sick.” The Baron held out the weevil's empty hand towards Livia. Her veins flashed green, and a stream of green, glowing energy, floating like smoke, left her body and went into his hand. It took a few seconds as a steady stream of slow, green fire flowed from her to him until there was none left.
“What happened?” asked Livia, as she stood up, looking at her hands.
“It appears he's taken away the alien energy,” said Loki.
“Hold on, I ain't done yet,” said the Baron. He raised his other hand, with the gun. Bang!
A bullet went through Livia's heart, the wound bleeding quickly, staining her burnt dress.
“Livia!” Anise shrieked, running over to help her.
“No!” yelled the Duke.
The weevil smiled, then the red of its eyes faded and it dropped the gun and began snarling like an animal. The Torchwood agents ran to stop the weevil and return it to its cell, while the Duke ran to Anise and Judith Nevins, both of whom had knelt down beside Livia to help her.
“Well, that sucks,” said Livia, her voice full of emotion as Anise helped to prop her up. “And I thought things were finally getting better.”
“You're losing a lot of blood,” said Dr Nevins, compressing her chest. “I'm surprised you're awake.”
“We can help,” said the Duke. “I can get you to the ship, there should be medical supplies.”
“No, please . . .” said Livia. “Don't. I'm sick of running around, trying to solve this. You can't solve this.”
“Don't lose hope,” said Edison. “I've seen worse, you can make it.”
“I need you to stay strong for me, and we can fix this,” said Nevins
“You can't,” said Livia. “Did you know I was a black girl? Haitian and proud . . . now I'm going to die looking like some stranger. I don't even know who I am anymore.”
“I'm sorry,” said the Duke.
“Don't be sorry,” said Livia. “Just be . . .”
Livia exhaled deeply and didn't inhale.
“She's lost consciousness,” said Dr Nevins. “She's so warm . . . wait, get back!”
The Duke got to his feet and Edison grabbed Judith's arm to help her get to her feet as Livia's veins glowed red, then suddenly burst into flame. The fires weren't green, but natural orange and burned quickly. The Duke rubbed his hands over his bald head as he watched her burn.
“Duke, what do we do?” asked Anise as she stood up, her eyes welling with tears.
“I don't know,” said the Duke quietly. “I'm a duke, not a doctor . . .”
After the Torchwood agents had managed to get the weevil back in the brig, they returned to find Livia's burnt remains on the floor.
“We'll handle it,” said Heather. “We're used to cleaning up this kind of mess.”
“Thank you,” said the Duke. “My friends and I will be leaving now.”
“Where are you going?” asked Heather. “You could stay. We would learn a lot from one another, and that powerful, psychic energy is still out there.”
“You do things your way,” said the Duke, glancing at the shotgun across the room. “I do things mine.”
“Well, do stay in touch,” she said, and she held out a business card with two fingers. Edison stepped forward and took it from her. “It's nice to have a useful ally that knows you exist.”
“Likewise,” said the Duke, and he walked down the hallway towards his ship, his friends following behind him.
“Where are we going now, Duke?” asked Edison.
“Away from here,” said the Duke.
“Why? Can't these people help? Maybe they can help us find the Eighty-Eight.”
“Not today,” said the Duke. “Today, we're leaving.”
They entered the cargo bay and walked around towards the back of the Lift truck.
“But why?” said Edison.
“Because I've lost enough for one day,” said the Duke climbing into the truck.
“You can't keep running away,” said Edison.
“I'm not running away!” growled the Duke. “I'm moving forward. To stay would be running away from my duty, to help others and to find the Eighty-Eight.”
“Her body's not even cold, Duke,” said Edison.
Anise let out a sob and stormed past the two of them into the console room.
“Anise!” called the Duke, running after her.
He entered the Lift to see Anise leaning against the console, crying. she started twisting dials, pressing buttons and entering random co-ordinates.
“Leave!” she screamed. “Let's just whiz away in your magic box and pretend it didn't happen!”
“Anise! Calm down!” yelled the Duke, he marched over to pull her away, but she turned and started pushing at his chest.
“Get away from me!” she screamed, angry tears rolling down her face. “We all lost her, Duke! You can't decide how we deal with it!”
“This is better,” growled the Duke through gritted teeth.
“How is running away better?!” shrieked Anise.
“Because I've been there before!” yelled the Duke. “Over twenty years ago, everyone on my planet died! All at once, gone. And I stayed then, I mourned then! I thought I was honouring their memories, mourning the peoples I had lost, but all that happened was I stayed and for so many years, I was lost and alone, on an empty planet . . .”
“But what about her?” said Anise, her voice quieter, but still broken with emotion. “She suffered so much . . . I don't even understand how she felt.”
The Duke sighed heavily, and glanced at his shoes for a moment.
“I know what it's like . . .” he said.
Edison said nothing, but he took a few steps closer, and looked at the Duke. The Duke looked at him and back at Anise.
“The day my people died, there was an explosion. I don't know who fired the first shot, but it was devastating, and spread. I couldn't do anything but sit and watch, I was so tired . . . it came and washed over me too. I barely had time to scream, it was pure agony. When I woke up, I looked like this.” The Duke rubbed a hand over his cheek.
“You were killed?” said Edison.
“I let myself die,” said the Duke. “I never raised the shields. I didn't see the point, if my people were going to continue suffering, alone.”
“Oh, Duke . . .” Anise ran forward and grabbed the Duke in a tight hug.
“That explains that speech before,” said Edison off-handedly. “Every life is precious, even if you are immortal.”
“I'm not immortal, Edison,” said the Duke, cradling Anise. “I can only regenerate a dozen times. it's finite.”
“Still. You get twelve lives.” said Edison, sounding indignant.
“Thirteen, plus the first life,” corrected the Duke. “But that's an absolute maximum. As I said, it's unpredictable and I will die every single time. I'm not immortal, Inspector; I'm undead.”
“Damn . . .” said the Edison, rubbing the back of his head as he processed all of it. “Wait, so, if you've regenerated before, then what were you like before? What did you used to look like?”
“I hope you never have to find out,” said the Duke, and he looked at Anise in his arms. “Are you alright?”
“I will be . . .” said Anise with a sniffle, hugging him tighter. “Just don't let go.”
“Alright,” said the Duke, and he pressed a button on the console, closing and locking the door to the lobby. “Then hold on tight.”
The Duke reached over and pulled the ignition lever, and with a thump and a groan, the time machine whirred and wheezed into life and dematerialized; whisking off to times unknown.