Hidden Pages – Chapter 44 – The Past Is Not History


Beth wasn’t sure how a near future bit of ultra-tech like a nanobot forged cyborg would stand up to the retro-future super-tech of Starshine’s pistols or the reality breaking magic of Lagressa’s claws and she had no interest in discovering the answer. At least not while the killer cyborg was willing to talk.

“You’re de Rais sponsor aren’t you?” she asked, stepping in front of her two companions.

Starshine had both pistols drawn and trained on the cyborg but was holding her fire. Probably because the gun mount on the cyborg’s shoulder wasn’t pointing at them. If he turned though, Beth suspected that all bets would be off.

Lagressa was much more placid by comparison. Or at least she seemed to be. Beth had the sneaking suspicion that the Lagressa she saw out of the corner of her eye wasn’t really there. As a setting, Gamma City wasn’t a fan of magically leaving an illusion behind while you snuck up on someone invisibly to assassinate them, but until Lagressa tried to strike, the Unread didn’t have to recognize her as being anywhere except where she appeared to be.

“And you’re Henry’s daughter,” the cyborg said, referring to Beth’s father.

It wasn’t a great sign that her opponent knew her father, or that he was able to identify who she was, but Beth also wasn’t terribly surprised. Her father had been tangling with this guy for awhile, and finding out who your foes were was like “Smart Tactics 101”.

“I have to admit I’m surprised to find you here,” Beth said. “Do you really expect a psycho killer from ancient France to manage two minutes in the real world without a handler?”

“Ancient France? The 15th Century isn’t…,” the cyborg shook his head, a gauntleted hand pinching the bridge of an armored nose. “But of course it’s ancient to you. You clearly do not share your father’s understanding of the flow of time.”

“Oh my god, I like different books than he does. Shocking isn’t it?” Beth said, spitting all the scorn and sarcasm she could muster.

The jibe about her lack of familiarity with history struck a little deeper than it should have. Beth had always been an excellent history student. It wasn’t her primary focus, but she prided herself in being ahead of everyone else in her grade. Despite that, she’d still been struck time and again by people assuming that she couldn’t follow her father’s work. At first it had been a question of her age, but the assumption didn’t change as she got older. She wasn’t a perfect clone of Henry Candler, or capable of growing up to become one, so therefor she was lesser.

“Yes,” the cyborg said. “Without a mind like his, it’s surprising you can walk the same paths that he does. Not that he could have found me here.”

“Score one for me then,” Beth said. “The question remains though, why you thought being here was a good idea? Or are you afraid of my father so much that you had to find a rabbit hole he wouldn’t think to look down.”

The cyborg laughed, a crunching, metallic sound.

“I’ve seen that fire before,” he said. “You got that from your mother, didn’t you?”

“I’ve seen people dodge questions like that before too,” Beth said. “How scared are you?”

“I have nothing to fear,” the cyborg said. “Not here, as I’m sure you know.”

“Then answer the question,” Beth said.

“You are not wrong about this world being a convenient fortress,” the cyborg said. “There are other places outside of your father’s reach of course, his range is limited by his obsession, but he’s not the only one of us which one must worry about.”

“You’re worried about the Burners?” Beth asked.

“Not especially,” the cyborg said, “though they can be a nuisance and dangerous if left unattended. No, I speak of the other travelers.”

“Just a thought but maybe people wouldn’t be a threat to you if you didn’t send serial killers after them? Seems like a pro-strategy there right? Don’t be a colossal jackass and people won’t be out to get you.”

“You are so young,” the cyborg said. “If things were as simple as you believe, then none of this would be necessary.”

“Necessary?” Beth asked. “How is anything that you’re doing necessary?”

“Oh, not what I’m doing,” the cyborg said. “All of this. Each of these worlds. Existence itself. We’re only here because things aren’t simple. But they can be. They’re going to be in fact. It will just take a few more dominoes falling before it becomes inevitable.”

“Does that sound five shades of sideways to anyone else?” Starshine asked.

“I would anticipate an extended cackling session next, followed by increasingly irrational ranting” Lagressa said.

“Good, I’m not the only one who was thinking that,” Beth said.

“I could’ve told you he was a megalomaniac just from his entrance,” Starshine said.

“I am many things,” the cyborg said. “Wrong however is not one of them.”

“Really? Cause it sounds like you’re planning to destroy a world or two and that seems like the textbook definition of wrong,” Beth said.

“I’m not planning to destroy a few worlds,” the cyborg said. “I’m going to fix them. All of them.”

“What’s wrong with how they are now?” Beth asked.

“Everything,” the cyborg said. “They’re supposed to be better than this. They’re supposed to have a purpose and meaning. They’re supposed to be open and free so that everyone can enjoy their wonders, not just the privileged elite.”

“And you think you can make that happen?” Beth asked.

“I know I can,” the cyborg said. “Listen, you’ve already proven that you’re more reasonable than your father. Let me show you what these worlds are really like. The strife. The chaos. The suffering. Your father wanted to be a history teacher in college, I wanted to be much more than that, and we both achieved what we worked for. Let me teach you the things that he can’t. The things that he’s blind to.”

Beth hesitated for a moment, surprised at the offer, and unsure of how to respond.

Her deliberations were cut short when the cyborg was struck by a projectile moving at hypersonic velocity. A projectile Beth couldn’t see but which her intuition told her was a Silicon Traces shaped bullet.

The Valkyries were good about limiting civilian casualties. What they were less interested in was limiting the damage they did to rogue cyborgs. Especially ones who’d already shot them.