Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Stephen Dee
1:00 AM 9th January 2024

Blood Perfect: Part Nine

First Episode
Next Episode
Latest Episode
Image by Mike Uderevsky from Unsplash
Image by Mike Uderevsky from Unsplash
Flick's not ready yet to believe in the signals passed through to her brain by her senses. Those faces, for example, laughing at her from inside their clouds of steam, might only be interested in the juxtapositions of colour in the tiles. They are neatly placed above her head, the only part of the room not exposed to the underlying basalt. She ran her hands across them while the taps were running, expecting a cool smoothness but her senses said scratchy! and pitted! which is normally what they would have said about the rock surrounds. The bath itself, however, once she settled herself in it, having anointed it with whatever unctions were provided was lush; soft; and the scents, entering her off the water's surface, have a quality of untruth about them: grassberries that carry bleaching agents; muskberries that bleed the blue tang of parasprite.

Boomboom notwithstanding, her memories seem to be re-attaching themselves, each with the little punch of a half-rhyme, or the sudden clout of understanding. Kersten took some persuading that day back at Tubrik's Deeper, but once Rux had shown her the truth, she took it on board. Rux set the three rings down on the table in that little ante-room down in Tubrik's Deeper. Kersten picked one up to examine it.

''How do I know it's not some kind of weapon?''

''You don't. This part's about trust.''

Kersten conceded the point.

''This is Chime,'' said Rux. ''Try him on.''

Kersten slid the ring on.

''Can you feel it?''

Kersten's eyes lit up, her breath caught.

''What he says is just for you. I won't be party to it.''

''No,'' said Kersten. ''I think you're beautiful.''

''You don't need to vocalise,'' Rux advised her. ''Thinking will do it.''

Rux drank her tea while the two of them communed.

Kersten placed Chime back on the table alongside the others. She had a spaced look about her, as though she'd taken something. ''Chime spoke to me,'' she said, ''about Arbitration.''

Rux slid into Lume. ''Lume's agreeable.''

''And Rhôme?''

Rux took the remaining ring and held it. ''Rhôme hasn't decided yet.''

''We need to speak to Paradigm,'' said Kersten. ''Let them weigh in.''


Flick can feel herself slowly coming down. It isn't a linear process. She drifts down so far but then is hoicked back up again, as if in the updraught of some memory. Each memory is so vivid she relives it but it gives her something else too. It seems to give her more clarity about what's happening in the here and now, although this may also be a sensation caused by the drug.

The next face to appear in the steam isn't from the past, although a cleaner version of it belongs there also.

''Forgive me,'' says arKhana. ''I'm just making sure you're okay. I know it's your first time.''

''Thank you.'' Flick extends an arm.

arKhana comes deeper into the room.

''It's not like you haven't seen it all before.'' She takes arKhana's hand and he sits on the floor beside her.

''You're all covered in bubbles anyway.'' arKhana leans his head against the back wall, closes his eyes and breathes in the aromas. ''Definitely your choices,'' he says.

''Close enough at least. There's always jathinder.''

''I could do with a wash myself. I feel so grubby.''

''A haircut wouldn't go amiss either.''

''Tell me about it. It feels like a caldera coot sitting on my head.''

Flick laughs, remembering the last time they bathed together. arKhana was readying himself for the final push. They were in Rux's apartments in Lilleth, facing out onto the caldera, high up in the cliffs. It was summer and the bathhouse roof was open, the glazed frontage rolled back so that they were on a terrace with a seemingly endless acreage of agricultural and parkland as the backdrop. They could just make out the beginnings of the wilderness which has been left to occupy the central core. It was just a shimmer in the haze across the farmlands. Rux loved this view but it made arKhana feel uncomfortable, exposed. His family had never had the wealth that led to an accommodation with the openness of the caldera. He was a cave-rat through and through.

Rux didn't find out until The Settlement hearings exactly what arKhana had put himself through to carry out his part of the plan. He explained in detail how he had gone back to the Amethyst Veins and returned quietly to his former posting. He hadn't been missed. Temperance had maintained a fairly steady series of raids and smother-bomb attacks along the whole front and, because he had been loaned out by the Nationalist-leaning utPrimde (who were in debt to the kiLasse, who, in turn had a historical working relationship with the Federalist-leaning deKhnastre who themselves had been approached by Gnostic Liaison with a plan to end the war), as a specialist in intelligence and chaosmongering, operating strictly on a lone-wolf, need-to-know basis, no one could confirm or deny which battles he had been a part of. As the raids began to ease, he made his way back through the jagged tunnels to the Daxtle Causeway. This ran from the entrance of the former mining operations into a perfectly spherical, fractal-type space known as the Thystine Bubble and formed, it is assumed, by the same processes that produced the other fractal spaces within the mountain. The Daxtle Causeway runs right through the centre of the Bubble forming a bridge between tunnels at either end. The bridge is overlooked by a thousand little portals which lead into thousands and thousands of smaller and more habitable versions of the same bubble. It is these bubbles in which the fighting took place, making it impossible to know who had taken what territory at what time. arKhana was employed both to take a tally and to carry out guerilla warfare as he saw fit, taking down as many enemy bubbles as he could in the process.

When arKhana hobbled onto the Daxtle Causeway with a nasty sprain and a few minor cuts and bruises, to make his presence known to Vutign utThalé, commander of all forces in and around the Amethyst Veins, utThalé had no idea what subtle undercurrents and conspiracies had been stirred up all around him in order to put a stop to this, quite frankly, ludicrous escalation of what had been a comfortably tepid war into something verging on the catastrophic.

utThalé brought arKhana into the outer echelons of his private quarters - no mutattë was allowed within - and debriefed him. arKhana made something up which passed muster and the meeting quickly changed in tone to something rather more urgent and secretive. The various people in the surrounding rooms vacated on pressing errands, as if responding to some pheromone transmitted by utThalé himself.

''We're working towards the final push,'' said utThalé. ''We've all but got it in the bag.'' He gestured towards a plans chest, inelegantly placed within the circular room. He withdrew a plan of the local volume. ''This is us,'' he pointed a stubby finger at a little fractal, safely away from the central Bubble and well within Gnostic territory. ''This, according to our intelligence, is them. More specifically, it is where my Temperance counterpart, a man named Parx is holed up.'' utThalé then turned the plan upside down. ''This,'' he said, with something of a flourish, ''this is the entrance to the Druvian Shaft, and beyond that the Heisen Manufactory.''

arKhana was tightening a knot in the pit of his stomach: ''You're wanting me to go down there?''

''No. I have a special ops team for that,'' a condescending little smile flickered its way across utThalé face. ''I want you to go to Parx and sue for peace.''

''Sue for peace?''

''Or whatever will get you into a room with him. Then I want you to give him this.'' utThalé dug around in his many-pocketed fimnel vest, throwing a number of memory cakes down on the table. He finally found one with the initial D watermarked into it. ''These are my terms.''

''What does the D stand for?''

''It doesn't stand for anything. It's just a D.''

So arKhana and Parx met for the first time in a cluster of bubbles in the dying days of the war and surprisingly close to the battlefront. arKhana had already been vetted and cleared by the Temperance Executive through back-channels which Rux, after her meeting with Kersten Karter, had put in place. This was something of a relief for arKhana as his ankle really was playing him up at this point.

utThalé's terms were as obvious as they were unrealistic: anybody affiliated to Temperance to leave Murgatroyd within a month or Principal gets nuked. Parx rolled his eyes.

''I've talked to Paradigm,'' said Parx. ''There are no Euphranium deposits left down there.''

''So it's just a bluff?''

''I think his intention is to draw Paradigm into the war.''

''By raiding the Euphranium mines?''

''No. By taking out what's above them.''

arKhana thought about that for a moment. ''Oh. Fuck,'' he said.

They strapped arKhana's ankle and gave him some pharma. It didn't take the pain away but it made everything else much more interesting. It also gave him an ability to shift focus in a way he'd never experienced before which he found slightly disconcerting - like entering four dimensional spacetime from a three dimensional perspective.

''What is that stuff?''

''We're calling it Wider. It's principally aimed at workaholics.''

''I like it.''

''It's a bastard to get down off but it'll last you the mission.''

''I'll worry about it when I need to. Just point me in the right direction.''

Temperance operatives led him through passageways Temperance had control over and it took them right down, albeit somewhat windily, into a seam less than a stone's throw from the Heisen Manufactory.

Temperance kept position out of site of whatever surveillance might be floating around in the voidspace. The manufactory was the central building in a line of three. arKhana took a moment to assess the situation. The base of the Amethyst Seam formed the ceiling to the voidspace which, historically, had been opened up for the extraction of coal and clay. arKhana was sitting in the end of a fractal which had been sliced through by the mine, his legs dangling over the side. He was about half way up the voidspace - fifty cubits from the mudstone surface. He had a good view of the layout of the space and there was sufficient irregularity in the rock face for him to be able to climb down without too much difficulty. The Wider would certainly be helpful in that respect.

The three buildings were spaced evenly across the mudstone floor, in a diagonal line. The manufactory was largest, hexagonal in shape and built from imported material - self assembling metals and liquiglass. It was a strange, alien-looking thing with its tendrils of cable sprouting from it like a badly managed hairdo. The other two smaller buildings were more recently constructed globes made entirely from liquiglass. Lit from within, they were hives of activity. Through his bnocs, arKhana could see that inside these globes everything was organised in threes, the internal frameworks orientated around red-glowing fusion reactors. These required no Euphranium and generated the electricity which fed the entire mountain. The central Euphranium manufactory was opaque and arKhana only had a rough sketch of the internal layout of the place. According to his intel, the hexagon, when it was operational some three spans ago, provided offices and employee welfare facilities, as well as personnel access to the Euphranium mine and processing facility beneath. The two outer structures had replaced the original fission reactors with plasma tokamacs.

According to Parx's theory, utThalé's men would make their attack on this level, rather than the Euphranium mines beneath. Temperance had warned Paradigm, who owned the voidspace and the mine below it and who provided the mountain's electricity to expect an attack on the fusion reactors. arKhana's brief was to break into the mothballed central manufactory and from there hold station to make sure no attack came from there. If that happened he was to blow the whole place.

Flick doesn't know which of his scars were created that day but she kisses each as a gesture of respect before getting down to business. When he enters her the bathwater sucks and squelches around them. She hasn't taken a lover for ages and it feels like she's earned it. It feels like coming home after a long journey and treating herself to a favourite dish. It feels like she hasn't been relaxed for as long as she can remember. It makes her wonder why she doesn't do this all the time, continually, from dusk 'til dawn and back again. She pushes his face under the water and rides the fuck out of him. She grabs his hair and almost drowns him ‘til he comes and she can feel it like a small explosion inside her but she doesn't let him stop she rides that fucker like her life depends on it she rides and rides until at last she catches the wave and she shudders, pulling his head out of the water and kissing his mouth as he tries to breathe. She clutches him around the waist with her legs and he snaps his head back and fills his lungs as the wave recedes and she rests her head on his and slides into the water beside him feeling tingly.

On the floor her phone buzzes and she knows it's Shem, chivvying her along.

Next Episode