The Corpse, The Twister, And The Veteran
rating: +33+x

There was a boat on a lake in the dead of night. The moon was out, a whole shining circle. There were three people on there. The boat, I mean, not the moon. One of them was a tall male behind the wheel of an enclosed helm, one was a shorter female, carefully stretching the muscles in her arms and legs, and the other one was dead. The dead one yawned.

Justice died about five years ago. It wasn’t a comfortable process. It involved the insertion of a thick rod of titanium through its heart at about twice the speed of sound. It was somewhat of a surprise to Justice, then, when despite the death of its body, it was still alive. Well, conscious at least.

Justice, as it turns out, had never actually been a human being. Justice was not being sustained by a metameme, or an antimeme, or any of that family of concepts. Justice wasn't magic, or at least, wasn't from any of the 27 well-established (if not completely understood) esoteric paths that █████ was familiar with. There were no neurons firing, no electrical impulses through its body - no muscular contractions, only movement without apparent cause. Justice definitely wasn't technological, nor extradimensional, nor reality-bending, nor Hume-emitting, nor aliphonious, nor xelembical, not paraphysical, metaphysical, hyperchemical, hypochemical, paramecian, ectoplasmic, pneumopsychological, nor, in any way beyond continued animation, alive.

This was astonishing, most of all to Justice itself.

Back to the boat. Olga started talking to Justice.

"We're about twelve miles out. We'll have about fifteen minutes to get what we're after."

"Should be plenty of time."

"Quite right. Stand up, let me get your harness on."

Olga had been taught esoterics since she was 12. Her father had made sure of that: he'd been in the Working business for decades, as had his mother, and her father, and his mother before him. It was an odd quirk of the bloodline that the sex of their offspring alternated each generation. Olga's father had taken it as fact that she'd be Working for a living. As it turns out, she realised at the age of 17 that she enjoyed Twisting quite a bit more. Explaining this to her father had been difficult.

"No daughter of mine's going to become a damn Twister. You'll Work, young lady, and you'll like it, so help me K-n."

Fortunately, being somewhat of a polymath when it came to esoterics, Olga was able to Change his Mind. He sent her to Tylemikus - which suited her fine, she wanted nothing to do with those pretentious dolts at Alexylva, anyway - and she graduated in the expected 4 years with a Twister's Diploma. █████ recruited her the same day she sent through her thesis.

Back to the boat. Olga pulled the straps of Justice's harness taut, then hit a button on the leg strap. Justice felt its body start drifting into the air, grabbing onto a railing on the side of the boat to keep itself steady. Justice turned around and bared its teeth.

"Thanks. Want help with yours?"

"Nah, I should be fine. Go check on Leroy."

Justice turned, pulling itself along the railing, edging towards the helm of the boat. Leroy looked towards the ghoulish, floating thing, dragging itself towards him, and felt goosebumps raise on his arms.

It wasn't that he disliked Justice. No, they got along quite well, all things considered. He knew Justice wasn't a zombie, per se. Just that, well, it looked like one. Leroy had taken too many trips through the uncanny valley to really feel comfortable around anything vaguely humanoid any more. Even other humans. Back when he'd joined up with █████ about 30 years ago, they'd regularly had to deal with bipedal monstrosities, shambling around with a discomforting gait. They hadn't been sapient, of course. None of them had been sapient, he'd told himself as he stared at the ceiling, unable to go to sleep. Their minds had gone, it was like putting down dogs - no, stop, you like dogs - no more intelligent than bugs - but bugs are scary, too, inhuman, gross, disgusting - this isn't working, take the pills, dreamless sleep, dreamless sleep.

Yes, last night had been one of the easier ones.

Justice pulled itself into the helm - at least it had the decency to keep its corpse clean, Leroy thought - and grumbled a greeting.

"We all good?"

"Uh, yeah, it's… we're good. Deflectors seem to be working fine, they haven't seen us yet. If they had we'd be being lit up or shot at."

"Good to hear. Give us the signal when we're good to go, alright?"

"Sure, sure. You, uh…"

Leroy stopped himself from saying "don't die out there" to the corpse.

"You… stay safe, okay? Don't let them ventilate you too bad."

Justice bared its teeth and cackled. Leroy winced a little.

"Same to you, buddy. See you when we're done."

Justice pulled itself back out of the cabin, then towards Olga, who'd just activated her own. She was laughing as she turned to Justice.

"Ha, oh K-n, we're really doing this, aren't we?"

Justice nodded. Olga's smile faltered a bit.

"Okay. Alright. Woo. Hah. Yeah, this… this'll be fine, right?"

"We'll be fine. You'll be fine, I'll keep an eye out for you. Don't worry about it."

"Brilliant. Okay. They can't be that ready for us, right?"

"Olga, nobody in the world is ready for us."

Olga returned to her grin.


She sighed, and turned to stare at the moon-illuminated silhouette of Site 27.

"Yeah. We'll be fine."

They weren't.

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