“So, you’re saying this… supercomputer… thing calls itself Maestro, and he created you to serve as a guide or babysitter of sorts to ensure that I didn’t allow things to get out of hand given my relationship with Jophiel?”
Once again, Elisabet had been left behind in the private offices that she and Jophiel jointly used, while the woman she loved so much had gone to have certain discussions with Cahethal. And once again, her secret mind duplicate who called herself Gemini had appeared to run through her tests.
“And now we’ve been through it three thousand seven hundred and twenty three times,” Gemini teased before adding, “Damn, I’m getting good at streamlining this. So, what do you say we go through the list and make sure everything is still above board and hunky dory, then you can get on with your day?”
Elisabet’s mouth opened to reply, just as a word written in what looked like blue flames appeared in the air above Gemini’s head. Liar, it read.
Blinking at her clear distraction, the projection of her younger ‘twin’ turned to look up. From her reaction, she clearly didn’t see the word that was still hovering there. She frowned, looking back toward Elisabet. “I know this is still a lot to take in, especially since I keep erasing your memory, but—”
The word had changed. Now it read, Festemuelkan.
Without quite knowing why she was doing so, Elisabet interrupted Gemini by blurting out that word. Somehow, the correct pronunciation jumped right to her head, along with exactly how much power she needed to put into it. Because it was a spell. How she knew the word, how she knew it was a spell, how she knew any of this, and where the word had appeared from, she had no idea. Nor could she explain exactly why she had simply blurted it out.
What she did know was that the moment the word left her mouth, a pale yellow forcefield of some kind abruptly sprang into existence around her. It was only a few feet wide, and looked weak enough to fall apart at a firm touch. Yet she could sense an indescribably enormous amount of power behind it. This forcefield would take someone of even her own power a good ten minutes to break through.
Gemini, for her part, looked completely taken aback, simply staring at the forcefield with an open mouth. It was almost amusing. Or it would have been, if Elisabet herself hadn’t been just as confused.
“Where—” Gemini started before suddenly lunging that way. Her hand smacked against the force field, colliding with it before stopping as the defensive shield held even against her. “Where did you learn a Kortean mind-level shield? And how did you keep it from me?”
Before Elisabet could answer, she saw more blazing words appear in the air. To most, they would have looked like complete nonsense. But she recognized it as a sort of truth spell. A bit of magic that would force the person subjected to it to answer absolutely truthfully. Its weakness was that it could be counterspelled. But, if the subject couldn’t use magic for whatever reason…
“Hey,” Gemini spoke up, “I don’t know what kind of trick Jophiel’s managed to leave in your head, but you need to stop. I can’t get back to you. Take down the shield. I can’t reach you from here. I can’t do anything. We knew you couldn’t really trust the Seosten. That’s why I’m here, remember? Take down the shield and then we’ll figure out what happened.”
Instead, Elisabet spoke the truth spell. She had no idea whether this really was something from Jophiel or from something else, but she did know that it felt right.
“Wait,” Gemini started, “what are you trying t—”
More words appeared in the air. These weren’t any spell, but Elisabet spoke them aloud anyway. “Are you really here to protect me from Jophiel going too far or enslaving me again?”
Her younger-looking mind twin pursed her lips briefly before exhaling. “This won’t do you any good, you know. You’ll forget all of this soon enough anyway. But fine, no. I am not here to protect you.” The words came out mockingly, Gemini’s tone and behavior having changed drastically under the new situation, like a mask had been ripped off.
Elisabet didn’t need the prompting of new words to ask the next question. “Why are you here?”
Again, there was a brief pause before Gemini rolled her eyes and answered. “Why am I here? I’m here to use you to control Jophiel. Well, more to manipulate, for now.”
Squinting at the image of her younger self, Elisabet demanded, “What are you talking about?”
Sighing dramatically, Gemini waved a hand dismissively. “Right, maybe we should start at the beginning so you can keep up. First of all, the story about the lost ship? That’s true. You did go to that ship with Jophiel for new powers. You did get trapped, and she did go to get help before life-support ran out. Hell, you even met someone named Maestro. But the details there are a little different.”
She went silent for a moment, walking back-and-forth in front of the forcefield as though gauging how strong it was. Finally, she sighed and continued. “Maestro needs a powerful Seosten to do some things for him eventually. Things they’d never do on their own. His chance for that came when he met you, and found out about your relationship with Jophiel. He put me into your head, and I’ve been using that to worm my way into hers so I can take control whenever I need to. It took a long time to do it without being noticed. I had to be so careful, so subtle. Especially given everything I had to do to you to make it fit.”
Elisabet’s instinct was to reach out for her connection with Jophiel. But she couldn’t do that with the shield up this way. It cut her off from everything in the outside world, including her beloved. And if she took it down, Gemini would be able to jump right back into her.
So, she instead demanded, “What did you do to me?”
Gemini’s answer was blunt. “Rewrote you. Memories, thoughts, personality in general. Not overtly at first, but more as time went on and I got better at making sure you and Jophiel didn’t notice any changes… well, I nudged a bit more.”
She smiled while continuing, clearly enjoying explaining herself, “I mean, first of all, you were a little too accepting of the whole ‘Seosten enslave everyone for their own good’ thing. I mean, you grew up in the time of the Spanish ‘colonizing’ the Americas. The idea of a more powerful, more advanced people taking a firm hand over the savages and raising them up? Come on, that fit in your worldview perfectly. Unfortunately, Maestro needed you to be closer to the human side of things, more sympathetic to the slaves. Or, more to the point, he needed you to like the Seosten in general less than you did. He needed you to be a bit more ready to side with the humans.”
Elisabet’s head shook as she demanded, “Why?”
With a low chuckle, Gemini replied, “Because that allowed me to start sewing some doubts through you into Jophiel. Which will make her easier to control when the time comes. Not that you should be complaining. I mean, would you believe that to pull this off we had to make you nicer than you actually are? Like I said, we had to make this change gradual so Jophiel wouldn’t notice what was going on until we had enough control to adjust her memories too. But if the new you saw the old you, you probably wouldn’t even recognize her. Or you. Whatever. The point is, you were all in on this ‘enslave for the greater good’ thing. Except you wanted to be a little more open about it. You were trying to convince her that the Seosten should do away with the whole Bystander Effect thing and just openly control humanity. Teach them to reach their potential, yada yada. You were convinced that your people would thrive and be raised up to eventually stand equal with the Seosten if Jophiel and her people acted openly. Which didn’t really work for Maestro. He needed all of you to be a lot more subtle than that. That’s the other reason he needed you to be… adjusted a little. It’s been a long road, let me tell you. But worth it. Especially since it lets me reach into Jophiel’s head now and then and… adjust her. Sometimes I do it just for fun, like taking pointless little shots at Lancelot back when you met. You know, those little verbal attacks that did nothing except make the situation more tense? It’s a good way of testing just how much control I have.”
Exhaling, Gemini actually smiled, her eyes watching the expression on Elisabet’s face. “It’s kind of fun actually explaining all that for once, you know? Especially since there’s nothing you can do about it. The second that shield goes down, I’ll be back in your head. And you can’t contact anyone while it’s up. Maybe I’ll do this again another time. Seeing that look on your face is worth it.”
She frowned then, as a thought clearly occurred to her. “Even if I’m still not sure how you pulled this off. I’ll find out when I’m back in your head. Whatever kind of oversight that was, I’ll fix it.”
For the first time in several minutes, more flaming words appeared above Gemini’s head. Raising her eyes to read them silently, Elisabet realized that she had no idea what these ones did. They were a spell of some kind, but of what, she had no idea.
On the other hand, whoever her mysterious benefactor in all this was, they had yet to steer her wrong. So, taking a breath, she spoke the words.
There was an immediate reaction from her mental twin. Elisabet may not have known what the spell did, but Gemini certainly did. Her eyes widened, and she immediately went back to trying to break through the shield. “No! Stop it! You’re endangering both of us! You’re going to kill yourself! You—”
Elisabet didn’t hear anymore. Her ears were filled with a deafening loud buzzing sound as she fell to her knees, clutching her head. It was the worst pain she could ever imagine, and it seemed to go on and on. Only belatedly did she realize that she was screaming at the top of her lungs, her shrill, terrified and agony-filled cry filling the room. Gradually, her vision went dark, and she collapsed.
A few, long seconds of silence passed before the woman abruptly jerked up right, sucking in a long gasp of air. Her eyes were wide as she stared at the ceiling while panting heavily.
“Well,” Gemini started in a low voice, “you managed not to kill yourself. Congratulations, I suppose.”
Ignoring her for a moment, Elisabet took another deep breath and looked down at her hands, turning them over both ways before smiling just a little. “Si, I survived. And now I remember.”
Gemini rolled her eyes. “Not surprising, considering what you’ve just used was a hidden consciousness spell.”
A hidden consciousness spell was a way of blocking off and hiding entire segments of one’s memories or thoughts. There were several uses for it, including enabling one to lie successfully by blocking off the incriminating knowledge with a note to oneself to use the spell later, or even as a way of blocking off addictions or inappropriate behavior. The spell could only be used by the person it was targeting, and would not work at all if it was being forced. So it had to be consensual.
The downside of the spell was the pain associated with unlocking that part of the mind once more. It was usually only a brief flash of headache that lasted for a second or two when the mind lock was undone within a year. Most were undone within a few days at most. No one kept a mind lock going for longer than a decade and then risked undoing it. But this one… the only time it could possibly have been made was…
“Before Maestro put me into your head,” Gemini realized. “You prepped a mind lock spell to shove your memories away, to hide them. Memories of how to restore yourself, how to… reboot, so to speak.”
Elisabet slowly pushed herself up to a standing position, meeting the eyes of her mental clone through the shield. “Yes. I left myself instructions about how to protect myself from you and how to restore my real memories and thoughts. I did not have a lot of time, as you know. All I could do was set it to trigger at a time when you were out of my body, and your… Maestro was close to his goal.”
Her eyes narrowed. “It’s the hybrid children. Something about them meeting with the Seraphim. It’s a trap of some kind. Maestro wants to use the children to destroy the Seraphim.” She paused, head tilting. “No, not destroy…”
Gemini waved a hand dismissively once more. “It hardly matters. As I said, you can figure out all you like in there, but you have no way of contacting anyone. And the instant that shield goes down, I am going to erase it from your mind. This entire endeavor was useless. You can do nothing to stop the Maestro AI from completing his goal.”
“You forget,” Elisabet sharply reminded her, “I remember things now. Including what happened back on that ship. I know he’s not an AI. And neither are you.” She pointed to herself. “This thing in my neck, it’s not a computer. There may be electrical and magical components in it to keep it hidden, but the main part of it is not a computer. You are not an artificial intelligence and neither is Maestro.
“He’s a hybrid. A hybrid of a Fomorian and the Seosten who was once known as Zadkiel.”
Gemini gave a slow, soft clap while shrugging. “Goodie for you. Yeah, he goes by a few names. Maestro is one. His… brother of sorts calls himself Grandfather, so he sometimes goes by Godfather. God. It’s appropriate, don’t you think?”
“He’s the one who trapped me on that ship,” Elisabet murmured. “He was chasing me after Jophiel left to get help. I knew he would catch me. I knew I didn’t stand a chance. So I set this up to give myself another try when I was stronger. That was another reason why I deleted it until now. Because I had to believe that I was strong enough to defend myself from whatever he did to me. Strong enough to defend myself from you.”
With a soft snort, Gemini raised an eyebrow. “Well, you kind of screwed yourself on that one, didn’t you? By my count, that shield of yours is going to last about another minute, at most. Then all of this goes away and you’re back to being a nice little puppet.”
Meeting her gaze evenly, Elisabet replied, “That’s the thing. You see, that reset didn’t just restore my memory. It also removed my little prohibition against hurting the little sack of wires and Fomorian biotech stuck to my neck.” She smiled dangerously. “I can hurt you.”
With wide eyes, Gemini blurted out something that seemed midway between a threat and a plea. But Elisabet was already raising her hand. A blade made of electricity that crackled with power appeared. As the protective shield preventing Gemini from taking control again flickered and vanished, Elisabet stabbed that electrical blade into the base of her neck. Both she and Gemini screamed, the sound once more deafening within the room as dozens of books, tables, chairs, glasses, paintings, and everything else was hurled in every direction as though a tornado had struck it. Ice, fire, and more whipped throughout the room, burning, freezing, and generally destroying everything it touched.
At the last instant, Elisabet felt a sudden rush of movement. The world spun around her, leaving the woman dizzy in a way she had not been in many years. Darkness enveloped her vision, as her senses of direction, orientation, time, and everything else were sharply cut. In the end, she blacked out, her last thought being a hope that she had actually managed to destroy the thing inside her. Because she wouldn’t get another chance.
She was lying on sand. Eyes opening, Elisabet once more found herself staring into the face of her younger self.
And then the image flickered, disappearing entirely for a second before returning. Gemini scowled at her. “Congratulations, murderer, I’m dying.”
“Not fast enough,” Elisabet retorted.
The scowl on the other her’s face brightened somewhat. “You’re right. Before you managed to cut me out entirely, I had a couple seconds. That might not be much for most people, but for me it was enough.”
“It would’ve been an eternity if you were actually a computer,” Elisabet couldn’t help but goad while looking around. She was trying to orient herself. Where was she? All she could see was desert in every direction.
The image of Gemini flickered again before stabilizing somewhat. “As I was saying, I had a few seconds. You killed me? Well I fucked you over too. See, I had centuries to build spells into you, carved into your actual bones. And now that I’ve used them, they’ll be active until I turn them off. Which, given I’m about to die, I guess will be never.”
Elisabet slowly stood up, watching the rapidly flickering and fading image. “What spells?” Even as she spoke, the woman focused on contacting Jophiel. When that failed, she held her hand up to create a portal. That too failed.
“Not gonna work,” Gemini taunted. “See, those spells I was talking about? One of them blocks you from any contact with Jophiel. She can’t sense you properly, she can’t come to you, she has no idea where you are. As far as she’s concerned, you’re alive but she has no idea where. And another of the other spells, it shuts down your connection to the Committee. They can’t sense you either. And you can’t use any of the Committee powers. Nor can you use any transportation powers. I’ve shut those down too. It was supposed to be a way of trapping you for Maestro when the time came, but this is good enough.”
Slowly looking around the desert before returning her attention to the image of Gemini, which had faded almost to the point of being invisible, Elisabet noted, “Shall I just assume you’ve sent me further away than the Sahara then?”
Gemini gave her one last smile, her mouth being the most visible part of her nearly completely vanished form. “Welcome to Aiken’te’vel, the Meregan homeworld.”
Raising an eyebrow, Elisabet noted, “I already know there are ways back to Earth from here.”
Gemini had faded completely by then, only her voice remaining. “Of course, but the question is, can you find the way back before they find you?”
Elisabet started to ask who they were, only to look up and see a familiar and incredibly chilling sight. Swarms of Fomorian bioships were descending toward the planet, so many that they blocked out the sky.
“Fomorians have been looking for a way back to earth for decades,” Gemini’s fading voice informed her. “This happens to be an alternate Earth, in another reality. And would you believe they’ve detected humans here recently? They’re quite interested, let me tell you. I would imagine they’ll scour every inch of this planet. And they’ll be very curious when they detect you. I imagine you’ll be quite the fun little rabbit to chase, especially without the Committee link or any transportation powers.”
Her last words before fading from Elisabet’s mind entirely as the Fomorian ships descended were a mockingly sweet, “Good luck, murderer.
“You’re going to need it.”