Upswing of Disorder
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May 4, 1998

Any sort of lengthy journey always ends up in a destination far more bizarre than what was originally intended: home. The first few days home give rise to oddities. Details that had been seen a thousand times over were now clear and new and briefly unfamiliar. Details that had been passed over for years were noticed for the first time.

This was the feeling Clef had as he walked out of the conference room. He had sat in on his fair share of board meetings and briefings, but the May 4th meeting of the Foundation Advisory Committee had to be one of the worst he had experienced.

He felt like a broken puzzle piece, like he didn’t fit. Details that time away had smoothed over resurfaced. His friends were tired. Older. More grey hairs and glassy eyes and creases around the face. The smiles and the “welcome backs” rang hollow. Actions, conversations, people…everything was subdued.

And then there was Adam. Or was he Kain now?

He had been present at the meeting, but for the first time in Clef’s memory, had said nothing. It was not as if he could have: he was a dog. It had a sad sight to see him pad in, wobbling and slow and clearly in pain, and then struggle up into his chair. The others were saying how the tech department was working on a motorized scooter or walker to help him around, and a speech generator that would work for someone without fingers. He had spent the entire meeting in his chair, watching the others with bleary eyes.

The only answer Clef had gotten as to why Adam now inhabited the body of his elderly guide dog had been “There was an accident”, and nothing beyond that.

Had that much changed in just a year and a half? Or had he simply mis-remembered? The days before the accident were fuzzy. He knew the events, knew the people, but there was a certain disconnect. Like hearing someone else describe something in a completely different manner. He remembered the stress and the sleepless nights, but it hadn’t been this bad, had it?

Or was that the Coalition talking?

In the Coalition, the stress was passing. A new threat would arise, and then it would be dealt with, and that was that. Everyone went out and had drinks and a laugh and talked about the kids. The job was done.

Here, the stress never ended. The source was never disposed of. There was never a release. It just kept building and building and building and wearing down any resistance until something broke.

Clef felt a twinge of guilt, dimly remembering how he had been the one to suggest containment of the statue. Had he, in some little way, helped cause all of this? There hadn’t been that many items in those first few years, just enough to handle, but now…He’d seen the list on the plane back to America, and then found that his questions weren’t the ones to be answered.

Clef looked at his watch. The meeting had run over schedule by a good twenty minutes, which meant that he was ten minutes late for his next adjustment meeting with Able.

He hurried down the hall.

Sophia Light watched Clef turn the corner and walk out of sight. Ben stood next to her.

“Is everything ready?”

“Ready as it’s ever going to be.”


Able, once the god of war for an entire civilization, was still experiencing severe jet lag. He was also not wearing pants, but Clef thought it best to take these adjustment sessions one thing at a time, and getting him to keep his food down was more important at the moment. His stomach had a tendency to react violently to twentieth-century fare.

The table and chairs that had been in the room were unused: Clef and Able sat in the center of the floor. The subject had drifted from behavior in public to the wonders of electricity.

[So, these lights…] Able motioned to the ceiling. […are created by lightning.]

[In a way, yes.]

[And you then use this lightning to make your metal things move, yes?]


[And it is not Daevas magic. The Daevas had some similar tool, but they were fueled by slaves.]

[Think of it as another kind of magic. We take the lightning, put it into copper, and then add switches to the wire to make it stop and go.]

Able nodded.

[There is less screaming involved in your way.]

Clef was rather relieved at how easily Able wrote off modern technology as magic, a topic he had absolutely no interest in. Things worked because they did, and questioning them was pointless.

[Now then, I’ve been talking with my other staff members and we are considering getting you an animal if you continue cooperating. If…]

He was cut off by a siren and an automated voice over the loudspeakers.


Shit.” Clef jumped up and ran out of the room, his body moving on autopilot. The numbers scrolled through his head. Nine Fifty-Three. The kumiho. Very dangerous, limited polymorphic abilities, mind-altering abilities, generally in seduction and suggestion. Site 19 had…seven blanks on staff, and he was one of them.

Well shit.

He ran into the hallway, catching up with a group of guards with Ben at the front.

“Where is she?”

“Tower one, level eight. She got the jump on the guy on feeding duty and managed to get out before the bulkheads closed.

Clef nodded. A plan bubbled up in his head as he ran. Always running from place to place, that was the life of Alto Clef. Run here, kill this thing, run there, kill that thing, run back, here’s a list of things you might need to kill. Memorize it. Just run everywhere all the time.

He had memorized the list, but in this one solitary moment, he did not remember that he had left the door unlocked.

The woman was hunched over the body of one of the security staff, chewing out his stomach. The sound was terrifying, all the ripping and slurping and sloppy chewing.

Clef approached. There were guards positions down all four of the hallways that lead to this chamber, but apparently they had all received the order that Clef was to deal with her first.

“Easy, girl…

The woman looked up at him, a scrap of liver hanging from her needle-sharp teeth. She smiled.

Everything swirled in Clef’s head, all the possibilities milling about around the clear-cut lines of The Plan. Clef steeled himself, took a step onto the path, and let everything else happen naturally.

“Well, let’s get this over with.” Clef undid his belt and dropped his pants, revealing predictably ironic boxers. “Take me now, you sexy, sexy beast.”

Still the smile. She stood up, face, clothes and hands stained with a great deal of blood. Something was said in Korean, the meaning bouncing around in Clef’s head without ever settling in. He was pretty sure the general gist was one of “I would love to, you easy idiot prey.”

Time to turn the screws.

“I was literal with that last bit. I am attracted to you because you are a fox. A nice Japanese fox girl with really big tits. I like that.” He made sure to motion suggestively, just for emphasis.

That did it. She launched herself at him, claws drawn, screeching. From his perspective, the leap was in slow motion in slow-motion. Clef sidestepped out of his shed pants.

“And that fur? Damn I love me that fur. Gets so soft between the legs. You have no idea how attractive that is. And the snout? Don’t get me started on the snout. Snouts give great blowjobs.”

Another swing, another miss. It was so easy. He barely had to do anything. His body just acted on its own, a step here, a duck here, just keeping out of the way, taunting and taunting until that one moment where the screws were in so tight that you just had to grab one and yank

“I have a raging boner right now.”

He would have paid several million dollars for a photograph of her face as she leapt at him again. It would have been museum worthy. Duck low, shoulder into gut, knock her down, slam a knee down on her throat. Something silver appeared in his hand, the end shoved in the woman’s mouth.

“Oh wait, no I don’t. It’s an actual gun.”

Clef smiled, his mouth just a bit too wide.

“Never try to seduce a eunuch, honey.”

He pulled the trigger, the gun barked, and the woman burst into butterflies.

“Oh…well then. Shit.”

The syllable drowned in gunfire.

Able picked a tooth out of his chest and flicked it to the side. He trod over the bodies, one in particular being that of a man in a longcoat, his fedora rolled off into a little smear of blood. The body was impaled with a length of piping. The fat man backed against the wall looked as if he had soiled himself. His finger worked the useless trigger frantically. Able loomed with his full eight feet, bloody and pockmarked.

“Where Epon?”

Epon stood in her room, listening to the sirens blare outside. They had her locked in here for study, and she was fine with that, but now… now she felt like she should have been doing something. Getting Mother killed had given her a bad habit of activity. Things needed to be done, and she was going to be the one to do it, because no one else would.

She inspected the door again. There was no handle of course, no breaks in the seal. It opened only from the outside.

She kicked it. It didn’t move.

Why did I kick it? That wouldn’t do anything. I can talk to the observer anyway…

She pressed the microphone button by the door, feeling rather stupid.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

There was no response. More important things to worry about, she supposed.

Epon paced the room. Vents were no good, door was no good, no windows, no way to seduce the guard into letting her out (though granted, that would have been exceptionally difficult for her under any circumstances).

Time passed.

The door opened. A woman with glasses and a braid walked in. One of the doctors. Epon couldn’t remember her name.

“What’s going on?”

“A minor drill, nothing to concern yourself about.” She pulled out a chair from the desk. Her nametag read “Sophia Light”. “You have an interview scheduled for today”

“Okay.” Epon sat down, out of politeness. She hated sitting. Standing was much more comfortable. What was the point? The fight was out there, she was needed out there!

Clef was out there.

“How are adjustments going for you? Everyone treating you all right?” Light said, as if nothing was the matter.

“Everything’s fine, but I really think that…”

“No major issues in adapting?”

“Yes but…”

“How does it feel to be Clef’s little bitch?”

There was a definite mad twinkle in the doctor’s eye. It wasn’t much of an insult, to be honest.

“It feels like you’re no longer welcome here.”

Epon stood up, as did Dr. Light. She had a gun in her hand.

“I’m not going to let this place fall into the madhouse. I know what they plan on doing. They’re not going to keep you locked up, they’re not going to keep Able locked up. They’re going to use you. Clef’s gotten them confident. They think they can handle it. They think they can control the unknown. They can’t.”

Epon did the first thing that came to mind, and kicked the doctor. The total lack of knowledge regarding properly kicking someone was made up by the fact Epon, very literally, kicked like a horse. The first iron-shod hoof pulped Sophia’s stomach. The second shattered Sophia’s jaw. The third, which was more of a stomp than a kick, snapped her spine. She crumpled to the floor with a splat.

Epon snorted and wiped her foot on the floor.

Well, that was that. She had just killed someone. Directly this time. She took the ID badge and the keycard from her pocket.

The door opened again. A terrified-looking man was holding a keycard. Able was standing behind him, two thick fingers casually held around his neck.

[Able? You too? Now I feel like I should have tidied the place up.]

[No time. There are traitors, attempting to kill my brother.]

That sounded about right.

[One just tried to kill me.]

[When you kill a man, you kill his sons and brothers, so that they may not avenge him. Cowards that they are, they know this.]

Able squeezed the fat man’s neck and dropped the corpse to the ground.

[Come then. We shall find Clef.]

[We’ll have to be quiet about it.]

[Indeed. Let us go.]

Clef sliced a man’s throat open with a razor, and subsequently came to the realization that he had no idea why he had a straight razor in the first place, or how he was still moving. Some part of him was dimly aware that there was significantly more lead and significantly less blood in his body than there normally was, and that this was a bad thing. His body was retreating, but this seemed to be a lot less important than observing all the pretty patterns on the floor and walls. The brief moment of realization faded away into the background. He was somewhere else, somewhere far away, watching the scene acted out around him from some mental Laz-E-Boy. Just faces on a screen. Like a movie. Like a cartoon.

“Holy shit! Did you see that guy? Just went and offed himself! I mean, my breath isn’t that bad!”

The commentary seemed just as natural as the violence on the screen. It passed in a blur, the voice taunting and cheering and jeering and laughing, the bodies dropping to the floor, the splashes of red. The world blurred together with runny watercolors.

“Fucked your mom, fucked your mom, fucked your sister, fucked your dad…”

“You know, you might want to look for employment opportunities elsewhere, this place really doesn’t have good dental.”

“Hey there, friendo, gimme five!”


Sight and sound and experience blurred and drifted past.

Then, Ben. Standing there in the hallway, holding a sword. He had a finger gently pressed against the tip, as if to prove his mastery of the tool by not getting cut. Clef watched him through his eyes, noticing how his body wasn’t moving.

“You like it? Had it commissioned. Twenty k and two years for this. Would you just look at this craftsmanship? Folded over a million times by a master swordsmith, capable of cutting solid steel blocks, feared and respected the world over. This is the reason Europe never conquered Japan. This is the perfect weapon.”

“You know, I think you have me convinced on this.”

Clef watched his fist fly out and crush Ben’s nose. The man screamed, dropping his sword.

“Clearly, it is the greatest weapon to ever exist.”

Clef watched his left hand reach out and grab Ben by the collar, dragging him across the hall.

“I am going to have to re-think my entire life after this revelation.”

The other hand hit a button. A door opened. An air lock. Ben was tossed inside. The button again, the door cut off his “No!”

“Or maybe you’re just full of shit.”

On the other side of the door, in a room with no windows, Ben Kondraki managed to get a gurgling half-scream out before he was knocked to the floor and his throat was torn out by a rather large, snaggle-toothed lizard.

On the other side of the door, the voice snickered, and Clef watched the screen go black.

It was Strelkinov who found them first: Clef looking like a paint explosion in a Swiss cheese factory, Epon holding his head on her lap, Able standing guard.

Poignancy at its finest.

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