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Old 04/17/2010   #51
Mantichorus
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MEANWHILE, NEAR THE BORDER BETWEEN ARTOLIA AND DAMASCUS...
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Early studied his face in the bathroom mirror and then glanced at the grey water in the basin. Barely a week since his last shave and wash, and that muck had built up. While his van was solid enough, what clean water it could provide he saved for drinking water. He felt grateful to Smythe for allowing him to use the bathroom of this hut to freshen up.

Early grabbed his tee from the side, and walked out of the bathroom to Smythe’s “office”, pulling the tee on as he went. Smythe had rented out a building the opposite side of this little town to his house for any old business that might crop up. Early thought back to the personnel file he had been given. He was pretty sure the old man was married, or had been.

“How’s your wife?” he asked, as he walked up to Smythe. The older man tensed before replying.

“She’s good, thank you,” he said.

“Either of you miss your old home?” Early asked.

Smythe shook his head. “There’s nothing left there for us. Even before the conflict started, I was the only surviving member of my family. And my wife… my wife was from Hephaestus.”

“Shit. I’m sorry,” Early said. Hephaestus had been the seat of the Damascan government, until it simply vanished one day. As it had also been home to the largest Volsung facility in the country, most people believed it was one of their experiments gone wrong.

“Hmm, you sound sincere enough, so thank you. If you can fake that, then rot in Hell,” Smythe said. “Now… I assume that as Hartnell sent you to see me, your job has something to do with the Animus.”

“Bio-engineering super-soldiers is bloody stupid work at the best of times, but starting from the womb? With non-human DNA?”

“Damascus needed warriors. Genetic engineering is a part of everyday life, and has been--”

“Spare me the sermon. My first job was hunting a genetically engineered pyrokinetic. The bastard turned three towns and a dozen villages into molten pits before I blew his head off. He had no control of his powers, and from what I’ve read, that’s the same problem with the Animus,” Early said.

Smythe grimaced slightly. “The Animus… originally had no control. As there is only so much that can be hushed up, I would believe they now have some self-control. Otherwise we would have heard about such grisly remains.”

“There was an Animus in Chulainn Hub, the province capital. The press and police were convinced it was a human serial-killer,” Early smiled. It held little humour. “When folks decide to fool themselves, those in the know tend to let ‘em.”

“So… I take it you know about that night. You also, presumably, know about the Hunger. What do you need an old man like me for?” Smythe asked. Something that could have been anger or could have been distaste glittered in his eyes.

“Doctor Hartnell gave me… a load of crap, to be honest. My security clearance is so low, he couldn’t give me much else. But yeah, I know about the night they escaped. I’ve been warned about the Hunger by one of the loyal Animus, so I guess she knew what she was talking about,” Early nodded. “But we - that is, they, your old bosses - think that a few Animus have crossed into Artolia.”

Smythe drew a sharp intake of breath, and rubbed his chin. “Dear gods… I, I mean, it was obvious some might leave Damascus, but…” Smythe appeared to gather his thoughts. “No. I think I know what you want to hear, but I’m afraid - ha, no, glad - I haven’t heard or seen any signs of an Animus in Artolia.”

Early nodded. That had been the thinking behind it - if there was an Animus making a nuisance of itself, one of the twelve surviving scientists involved would recognise the signs.

“OK. I doubt one could hide itself in a little place like this, anyway. What about cities? The capital’s called Osea, right?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Smythe said. “It’s about the only city large enough in Artolia that could cover the rampage of an Animus in the throws of the Hunger under the usual crimes humanity commits.” He paused. “Well, there is one other… Vanaheimr.”

“I’ve heard of that place somewhere…” Early said. “Might be worth checking out.”

“Vanaheimr is home to IRIN International,” Smythe said. “If an Animus rampaged there, I expect they would have captured or killed it themselves.”

“IRIN, huh?” Early said, and made a low whistle.

“You know of them?”

Early nodded. A few of the factions in Damascus made good use of IRIN tech, whether they bought it themselves or stole it off of another faction. Compared to some of the Volsung tech still in use after twenty years or so service, the IRIN stuff was hard to blow up in Early’s experience. The only other equipment that came close to that was the higher tier Volsung and Viola war-gear.

Smythe appeared to pause. “Of course… I expect you have heard…things…about the Destrillians,” he said.

“I’ve heard the name,” Early said. “Supposedly, Viola was involved in super-solider work before they went bust. And it was the Destrillians that helped them go bust somehow.”

Smythe glanced at him. “You seem pretty calm at the prospect. I would have thought, considering what you’ve told me, that the prospect of individuals with elemental powers would disturb you,” he said.

Early scowled. “I’ve heard rumours about…those things, too. You mean that’s what the Destrillians supposedly are?”

“Not supposedly, are,” Smythe said. “A stranger came into town three years back, terrified and near death. I was the nearest thing to a medical man here at the time. While I was caring for him, he recognised the Volsung logo on some of my kit, and we got talking. He claimed to be a former Viola scientist, and when he slept, he woke up screaming. Supposedly, because of dreams about the Destrillians, and a man called Vargas. Within a few weeks of him arriving, a group of IRIN soldiers came into town, and…” Smythe shrugged. “We couldn’t afford a fuss.”

That irked Early at a primal level. He didn’t put much stock in honour and fair play, but just giving up a wounded man to those he was mortally terrified of seemed wrong. But something in the story had sent a memo to his memory.

“There’s a Vargas in charge of IRIN…” he said slowly.

“Yes,” Smythe said. “I think you’re better off steering clear of Vanaheimr.” He snorted. “You understand, I really just want to be left alone now. And if you get killed, Volsung will be sure to hassle me some more.”

“You’re all heart,” Early said.
__________________
I work all day and I think all night
I break my body, but that's all right
Cos it'll take all my mind and all my might
To keep one step ahead of you
L.E. Modesitt, Jr wrote: Sometimes cynicism is the last refuge of the idealist.
As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn't measure up.
You think water moves fast? You should see ice. It moves like it has a mind. Like it knows it killed the world once and got a taste for murder.
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