Character Description: Preventer

Preventer is a young woman, slightly built and very short.  Her hair is cut fairly short, around the ears or so.  It never grows.  She typically wears boyish clothing, and covers her already pale skin with a cosmetic that basically resembles paste.  Preventer occasionally carries a gun, but keeps the firing pin in her pocket.

Preventer’s most distinguishing feature is the snow-like pallor that her paste gives her, but if she removes it she reveals an even more distinct characteristic.  Sparkles, or motes of light, whirl and dance under her skin.  When she manifests her barriers a hypothetical observer would see a spark making its way to whatever part of her body she was expelling the barrier from.

These barriers look like a lot like faintly luminescent glass, and are typically very thin, with sharp edges.  They fly about as fast as a thrown baseball, more like one of the fielders tossing to another than a pitch.  A person can step out of their way if they are paying attention.

Preventer’s mannerisms are generally calculated to make up for her lack of stature.  She hates being discounted or ignored, and tries to insert herself into whatever is going on.  Preventer doesn’t necessarily have to be the center of the conversation, but she is most comfortable when she has had a hand in arranging whatever is.

In conversation Preventer speaks carefully and calmly.  She is accustomed to being the smartest person in the room, and it is fairly important to her that everyone else realize and appreciate this.  Her hands tremble when she is afraid, which is fairly often.

Presently, Preventer’s mouth is missing a section of its upper and lower lip, right in the middle.  She has also lost her two front teeth.  The edges of these injuries have mostly healed up, but the missing portion of her form doesn’t seem to be returning.  It is a fairly gruesome sight.

Almost no one likes Preventer.

Haunter 5:1

As Nirav and Fisher slipped away, I put my full attention on Preventer.

This was an important moment.  Dealing with Preventer would take every ounce of my concentration.

No one I’d ever met had ever been so crucial to my mission’s future.  Her monomaniacal selfishness and pathological disregard for others had rendered her an unprecedented threat, while her invincibility and inclusion in the Link meant that I had no way of addressing said threat.

It was a problem to tax the Jury.

Ordinarily, if the situation demanded it, I could call my reserve for what amounted to a free pass through any social situation.  Sufficient human attention could render legible the inaudible cues that pass between people, could chart a path through murky situations.  I’d done it on a number of occasions, with Preventer even.

But this was different.  Prior observations weren’t any use now.  She was visibly distraught with grief and rage, far from the icy manipulator I was familiar with.  Thui’s death, and perhaps the wound that Prevailer had dealt her, had unhinged her, left me dealing with a very different kind of danger from the one that typically accompanied conversations with my teammate.

“I didn’t fucking tell the fucking Pantheon shit!” she spat.

I was about eighty percent sure that she was lying.  The timing on Andy’s disappearance was just too apt, her execution of Condemner just a little bit out of character.  My mental model of what had gone down was something like ‘Preventer threatens Condemner to get him to hand over Andy to the Pantheon, then kills him to shut him up.’

That didn’t explain everything, and I didn’t have any particular proof, but it felt right.

“All right,” I said.  “I believe you.  Sorry.”

I didn’t, of course.  I thought she’d probably done it, but the fundamental problem of Preventer was that winning an argument with her was useless.  Even if I could prove, somehow, that my suspicions were justified…what would it do?  We’d still be Linked, and she’d still be invincible.

It was better to let her win this one, bring it up from time to time if I wanted to rile her up but generally back down on it.  Confrontation wouldn’t get me anywhere.

She halted a second, wrong footed by my capitulation.

“You wouldn’t gain anything from betraying Andy, we’ve already crossed the line against Her.  We are comrades in this.”

I was mostly focusing her attention on what she HAD gained from betraying Andy, trying to work her back into the scheming state of mind that the Jury was most familiar with.

“Why did you kill Thui?”

As I figured, she wasn’t about to let that drop.

The Jury hashed out the best thing to tell her.  The truth was actually on the table.  I was still trying to sort through what it meant, but having Preventer helping out would certainly not hurt.

“I didn’t kill your boyfriend,” I said.  “It was Karen who cut him in half.”

Preventer’s face went flat, all the expression slapped from it.

“Who said he was my boyfriend?” she asked.

I shrugged, with an elaborate carelessness that I didn’t remotely feel.

“Just a figure of speech, geez.”

He definitely was, though.  The Jury might miss out on a few things, from time to time, but they were pretty much infallible in terms of figuring out relationships.

The reserve was, on some level, like a big audience watching a tv show of my sensory input, and shipping the people I met was one of their primary entertainments.  They were basically never wrong about who was fucking who.

“Why did you throw him into Remover’s beam?” she asked.

Truthfully, It had been a panicked moment.  I had been desperately afraid that we were about to throw down with First Fist, and I’d reacted without thinking it through too much.  I still wasn’t sure exactly what had gone wrong.

“You know it was a trap, right?” I asked.

That shut her down for a moment.  She stared at me, brow furrowing as she tried to work through what I meant.

“I mean, why would Remover wait to kill Thui until we show up?  If they are just collecting skulls to put on walls or whatever, why not just take care of it long before we arrive?  What are the odds we get there just as they are ready to do it?”

“I know that!” she answered.  “They wanted to kill him in front of me, where I could see it.  Fucking sadists.”

I shook my head.

“Maybe that was a bit of it, but mostly that whole setup was about arranging one important test, while conserving a fall back method in case it doesn’t turn out how they want.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment.  I wasn’t sure if she’d already thought this through or not.  I pressed on regardless.

“Imagine that they don’t bother with Thui.  They just walk up on us at some point and Remover hits you with a beam, right out of the blue.  What then?”

She reached up and toyed with her lip, holding the torn sections together as though they might suddenly become whole.

“Well, one of two things,” she said.  “Either I’m killed or Remover’s beam does nothing.”

I snapped my fingers.

“Exactly.  A coin flip, no way to know beforehand.  Is your invulnerability or Remover’s disintegration stronger?  Everyone finds out at the same time.”

“Sure,” she said.  “But what does this have to do with Thui?”

I was pretty sure that she knew, but she was making me say it out loud.

“Well, obviously they are fine if Remover kills you.  They fight the rest of us, 5 on 4, and let Her know that we were traitors or whatever.  But what if nothing happens?  What if the she can’t remove you?”

“They are in a heap of trouble.”

“Exactly,” I said.  “They just attacked another Fist, and they can’t kill you.  We can kill them, but they can’t destroy our Link as long as you stick around.  They would be pretty fucked.  Thui is about giving them insurance in this case.”

“Insurance?” she asked.

“He’s an out.  A way for them to get you to test yourself against the beam, and have plausible deniability in the case that it doesn’t fall their way.  They just run off, then go to Her and say it was just a big misunderstanding.  They didn’t know we cared about that Dagger, etc.”

“Haunter, I’m not a fool” she said.  “Just tell me if you caught him with your gift or not.”

The moment of truth.

“I…yes.  Kind of.  It’s hard to say.”

I saw the danger signs.  Her nostrils flared.  Her hands twitched, rose up slightly.  I forced myself to ignore them, to stay as still and calm as I would be when talking to someone who wasn’t a maniac.

“Hard to say?” she asked.

“As you’ve deduced, my gift caught his soul.  I was trying to short circuit their trap, to give them no excuse to turn Remover’s beams on you, make them back down.  I had to get him out of the situation, so I used my gift on him and then…killed him.”

“I’d like to see him,” she said.

That was actually progress, in a way.  There had been a time when Preventer was a skeptic about whether or not my shades were actually people, and this moment would be something I could point to in the future if she ever fell back on that line.

“It…I don’t have him.” I said.

Her face screwed up into a scowl.

“What do you mean?”

“I am linked to him, but as far as I can tell, he is still alive.  My gift will collect his soul if, or rather when, he passes away.”

Her head turned, almost involuntarily, towards the front lawn, where Thui lay in two pieces, bisected neatly by Remover’s power.

“When he passes away?” she asked.

“Somehow he is still alive.  I don’t know.  All I know is his soul hasn’t hit my reserve yet.  He is still alive and active in the world, somehow.”

“Copyer,” she said.

Of course that was it.  I felt foolish for having missed it before.

“Remover must have had the Company Men, Copyer, use their gift on Thui.  Then they took one of him out here to fuck with us, and kept the other stowed away.”

She nodded.

“That makes sense…do you think the one Remover killed was the Copy or the original?”

She asked that in a very offhand, casual manner, but I wasn’t fooled.  She wanted, very badly, for Thui to still be alive somewhere.

“I’m not sure it works that way.  I think when Copyer’s power is done there are two originals.  That is, I don’t think there is any kind of difference between the two.”

“So, the Thui who is out there is the real one?” she asked.  “Or exactly equivalent anyway?”

I thought about it for a moment.

“My gift doesn’t have his soul, so that soul is presumably still out there, driving around his body same as it always has.  From what Andy told us, Copyer’s power…”

I trailed off, stung by realization.

“What?” she asked.

“Copyer’s power.  It doesn’t copy the soul, it just copies the bodies.”

She didn’t get it.

“So?”

“So, that is what is going on with the Company Men.  There is only one soul driving the whole set of em.  We know they never decide anything on their own.  There isn’t enough energy, or attention or whatever souls use, left over to decide anything.  The Copying process leaves you apathetic and paralyzed, because your soul is having to drive more bodies than it is used to.”

Preventer just looked at me.

“Look, Thui didn’t do anything much during that confrontation, right?  You might have expected he’d be going crazy, but he was basically passive.  I bet he had just half as much willpower as normal, and the one that they have stashed away was the same.”

“Oh, I get it,” she said.  “You are saying that, precisely BECAUSE this one died the other is the real Thui again?”

I was, basically.

“Hopefully.  My gift hasn’t gathered any portions of him, or anything like that.  I think the part that was driving this version probably went back to the other.”

Preventer’s face broke into a surprisingly sweet grin.  I noted it only absently, my mind still focusing on the implications of what I’d just figured out.

“The Chens.” I said.

Preventer’s grin grew broader, taking on its typical smug air again.

“Of course,” she said.  “She uses them for everything, they are Her brain trust.  They are how She maintains control of the Process, and She maintains control of them with Copyer’s gift.”

I nodded, that was pretty much I’d been thinking.

“But if what we are theorizing now is true, Copyer’s gift has a weakness, a way of escaping its grip.  If all but one of the Chen’s die, then that last one will be the real Dr. Chen again, with his full will intact.”

It was a heady thought.  The notorious pacifist, brought face to face with the consequences of his actions.  How could he fail to regret them, to use his knowledge to attempt to make things right?  The man who created Her, could he make something even stronger?

“Even more interesting, imagine if Copyer could be brought back to awareness again?” Preventer asked.  “Her original accomplice, and the man upon whose bones this whole thing was built.  You think he’d be happy that she enslaved him?  And Copyer, importantly, is not a pacifist.”

If he could just Copy her, just once or twice, the threat of Prevailer would be ended.  We could order the copies into the sun or whatever.

Preventer’s smile faded away after a bit, as we both contemplated whether these dreams could ever be brought to pass.

“I’m…not seeing a way to do this.” I admitted.  “If we kill Chens or Company Men they will just make more of em.  As long as they have a few of each they can just respawn the whole arrangement.  There’s a reason that no one has ever managed to meaningfully hurt The Company.”

Preventer nodded.

“But a Fist has never tried before.  I think this is more doable than you are giving it credit for.”

She seemed to have entirely forgotten about Thui now, but I wasn’t fooled.  The Jury pointed out microexpressions and such, made me aware that the tension from earlier hadn’t left her.  It had just been subsumed into this new idea.

“I’m not sure how that helps us.” I said.  “Not dying unless we all go is all well and good in a fight, but the problem of the Company isn’t winning a fight with it, it is that it is spread out, and She will respond to any damage to it.”

“Will She?” asked Preventer.

It took a sec to realize what she was getting at.

“Snitcher is dead.” I murmured.

“Exactly, so the only way that She knows what is going on with the Company is if she walks over and looks.  Otherwise She is dependent on their reports.”

“Reports…” I murmured.  “Reports can be falsified.”

“Yep, and with Indulger around She won’t exactly be paying careful attention to outlying Company Facilities.”

This could actually work.

“We can leak this, get the Pantheon and Union to take action against the Facilities, intercept the responses so She doesn’t spawn new ones.”

Preventer shook her head.

“I don’t like it, precisely.  Too messy.  They would be tempted to hold them instead of destroying them, and they’d have to buy into our pitch in a big way to risk interrupting the Process.  That’s not the way.”

Good objections, I thought for a second about it, trying to find the way around them.

“So, the Union and Pantheon each can’t afford to destroy the Facilities, because doing so leaves them at one another’s mercy and pisses off Her.  If we tell them that we are working on it from the inside…nothing changes.  They can’t believe us, and they can’t trust each other.”

It was frustrating to get so close, only to see nothing change.

Preventer was shaking her head, still.

“You aren’t thinking twisted enough.  We are on the inside, remember?  We can do a lot more than they can.”

I wasn’t following.

“What do you…?”

Preventer reached out, grabbed my hand in two of hers.

“Will, Haunter, will is the key.  They don’t have any.  They take orders without question.  Prevailer says Go Here.  Prevailer says Build a New facility.  Prevailer says We Need More Chens, and so on.”

I saw the solution in a flash.

“We don’t need the Union OR the Pantheon for this.  All we need is for Her to tell the Company Men to take our orders.  Then we isolate one Chen and one Copyer from the rest of them…”

Preventer’s grin curdled into a look of frightening malevolence.

“Prevailer says kill yourself.”

Character Description : Indulger

Indulger is fairly young man, towering and muscular.  He looks like a modern body builder or pro wrestler, just a towering and intimidating person.  He’s bald, light skinned and entirely without scarring.  He generally wears as little clothes as he can get away with, typically just cargo shorts or similar.  Fancy occasions will see him don shirts or tactical gear, but he never wears anything on his feet.

Indulger stands out a lot more in TFD’s time than he would in ours.  People basically don’t lift or work out in the Regime, which leaves him nearly twice the size of a lot of people that he meets.  The only other character who is roughly his size is Pursuer, the werewolf.

He sort of lumbers about, crashing through things and slumping onto them with a notable lack of grace.  This is mostly an act, he isn’t actually as clumsy as he pretends to be.  Dale finds it puts people at ease if he affects to be an oaf, and like many such disguises this has definitely seeped into his actual self image to some extent.

In conversation Indulger generally speaks slowly, without giving his words much thought.  He shies away from complicated concepts, and strives to simplify things down to a level where he can engage with them.  He is somewhat child like, although recently that particular quality has been eroding.

Most people who know Indulger like him.

Character Description: Haunter

A number of readers have mentioned that I rarely describe how characters appear in any great detail.  I’ve decided to try and remedy this in the Monday morning updates.

 

Haunter is an older women, neither particularly tall nor short.  She’s thin, and slightly bent over.  Her hair is greying, her face is lined.  She’s white, her hair and eyes are brown.  She generally wears threadbare and worn clothing, and occasionally carries a firearm.  Her hair is cut medium length in the back, short in the front, no bangs.

The easiest mistake to make when you picture Haunter is to imagine her an ancient.  She’s in her sixties, not her nineties.  The reason that everyone is impressed by Haunter’s age is that people do not live very long in this setting.

She moves around like a much younger person, and generally exhibits a grace that a lot of characters in the setting lack.  This stems from letting various athletes and such assist with basic motor control, and from the fact that while wearing a number of shades her strength is multiplied.

In conversation Haunter tends to be caring and deeply interested in what’s going on.  She will generally take the lead in most conversations, and is more comfortable extracting information via a series of questions rather than letting the situation develop naturally.  She is a compulsive planner, but adapts easily to most setbacks with the aid of her passengers.

Most people who know Haunter like her.

Condemner 5:1

It felt like they should be frozen, like their images should have been captured for all time.  A painter should have been here, setting oil to canvas in depiction of Haunter and Preventer, their enmity in the open at last.

Preventer stood motionless, slumped against the back of a fancy chair in her living room.  The ruin of her mouth glistened red and white, air hissing in and out in a distracting near whistle.  Her eyes didn’t seem like they’d blinked since that man had died, didn’t seem like they’d left his killer’s face.

Jane, by contrast, sat easily.  She was knitting, pushing threat through a shirt as she mended the jacket before her.  She was slouched in careless grace opposite Preventer, working busily along without reacting to the woman’s unrelenting stare.

Indulger hadn’t been able to take this tension, he’d bolted an hour ago following a whispered conversation.  From what I’d gathered he was returning to Her, reporting our arrival.  Someone had to do it, I supposed, and their relationship made him the man for the job.

It still felt cowardly to abandon Dale to that task, but accompanying him wasn’t going to make things work out any better.  It was calculation, not caution, which kept us from his side.  She’d react better to him on his own, be less likely to punish the object of Her affections if he wasn’t surrounded by expendable associates.

At least, that’s what we told ourselves our motivations were.  If I was being entirely honest, there was probably at least a little bit of selfishness mixed in there.

Betty’s Lure had left my side, and was sitting in the chair that Preventer was leaning over the back of.  Her shadow lay in a dark line across the floor to where her Hook looked over Haunter’s shoulder.

I smiled, pleased as always by Betty’s careful pragmatism.  It was a placement that didn’t exactly scream that she was making sure to separate the feuding couple, but accomplished the task anyway.  She was near enough to bear either of them aside if violence threatened, but not directly in their line of fire.

“You weren’t hurt?”

Preventer’s voice, still bearing that slight lisp, broke the silence.

She was talking to me.

“Oh, no.  Nope.  I’m fine.  Didn’t take a scratch.  First Fist just looked at me, and backed right off.  They didn’t want any part of this, no sir.”

It wasn’t the tension of the confrontation that had me babbling.  I’d been in fights before.  I could handle that.

What was making slurry of my sentences was the strange immediacy of the moment.  The contrast between the joy that flooded through me every time my heart beat without summoning my other self from the depths of my consciousness and the balking awkwardness that came from striving not to mention the fact that Haunter had hurled Thui into Remover’s beam was something I’d never experienced before.

I felt like grabbing the two by their arms and shouting at them to talk it out, and also like never mentioning it again.

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Jane.

Her voice was even, conversational.  She didn’t have a shred of tension about her.  She spoke like she was complimenting me on losing a few pounds.

“You are glad?” asked Preventer, stressing the last word.

Jane looked up from her knitting.

“Yes, Preventer.  I’m glad that Nirav wasn’t injured.  Is that a problem?”

It couldn’t be kept quiet anymore.  I squirmed uncomfortably as the two faced off.

“I don’t know, what kind of problem could it be…” Preventer scratched her chin like she was deep in thought.  “How about you killing Thui?!”

Haunter aped a shocked expression, raising her eyebrows in an exaggerated display of innocence.

“Do I have this right?  Is Preventer telling me that there is something wrong with Ultras killing daggers?  Did no one tell me that today is opposite day?”

“Bitch,” snarled Preventer.  “Don’t act like Thui was just another guy.  Did you do this just to get at me?”

“Are you trying to say that there’s something wrong with that?” asked Haunter, still keeping her tone dangerously innocent.  “That future Andy’s shouldn’t get shopped to the goddamn Pantheon?”

Preventer’s head snapped back like she’d been slapped.  Actually slapping Preventer would just break your hand, but apparently you could get the same effect with words.

“What do you mean by that?” asked Preventer.  “What the fuck do you mean by that?”

“Isn’t it surprising, almost too surprising, that the instant that the two of us found out what Andy could do the Pantheon made a play for him?  Almost like someone told them?  Someone who has been known to communicate with the Pantheon in the past?”

“Wait, are you saying-“

I tried to interrupt their argument, but got overridden.

“If you’ve got an accusation to make,” snarled Preventer, “then maybe you should just fucking make it.  I didn’t tell the Pantheon shit about Andy.  Why the fuck would I do that?”

“Sure, you didn’t.” said Haunter, evenly.  “Like I said, just a coincidence.”

The silence returned for a moment, but it definitely wasn’t going to last.  Fisher shot me a glance, eyes silently pleading for me to do something.

One of the few real threats to a Fist was a sustained interpersonal conflict.  Returning to life every day was all well and good, until you just killed each other in the morning.  If you really couldn’t stand one another, then the Link’s protection was something of a mockery, as it bound you to the very people who were your biggest danger.

“Betty, hey, you want to go for a walk?” I asked, trying to keep my voice as bright and casual as possible.

It wasn’t perfect, but the best thing I could think of was to get us away from the two of them.  If there wasn’t the complication of looking bad in front of the rest of us, maybe they could hash this out.

Betty grunted, got her human form up and across the room.  Jane and Rebeccah looked daggers at one another as we started leaving.

We slipped outside, grateful to leave the stagnant atmosphere of the house.  I looked guiltily at the Lure.

She shrugged.

“Let them take care of it.  Worst case scenario, Jane loses a few shades and it is all out in the open.”

Muffled shouting emanated from Preventer’s house, and I started walking away down the street.

Betty caught up, took my hand.

We walked in silence for a few moments, trudging down the road away from the argument.  I tried not to stare at the skulls that First Fist had been mounting on the walls, tried not to think about the fact that they might be watching me on Her behalf.

“What’s it like?” she asked.

I took my time about answering, let our steps carry us along while I mulled it over.

“It’s like if you had a toothache, but every day.  Every day your teeth just hurt.  They hurt when you wake up, and they hurt when you go to bed.  The pain in your jaw is just a fact of your life.”

She didn’t jump in, just let me take my thoughts to their conclusion.

“Then one day your tooth just… doesn’t hurt anymore.  You are overjoyed, and it just keeps on coming.  Every day is a new delight.  Now I’m waking up and it isn’t hurting.  Now I’m listening to Prevailer and Haunter fight and it isn’t hurting.  Now I’m…walking down a street with the most beautiful girl in the world, and Condemner isn’t here!”

“Dawwww…”

“No, I’m serious.  It still just keeps hitting me.  He’s gone.  He’s really gone.  Since Preventer killed him I haven’t felt Condemner even once.  I am free.”

She elblowed me in the ribs, playfully.

“Not what I was dawwing about, Nirav!”

I chuckled.

“I don’t even get that little pang of guilt when people call me that anymore.  I don’t have to feel quietly ashamed that they think they are talking to a person, when I’m really just Condemner’s mask.  I’m finally me!”

I wasn’t quite as convinced of this as I was letting on, actually, but I felt really guilty that my other self had apparently put everyone through some really intense shit with in Redo, and it was driving me to overcompensate.

We came to a checkpoint, and they waved us through.  The Knights dropped into the Posture and the Ultras knuckled their foreheads respectfully.  It was good to be in a Fist.

“Really you, huh?” asked Fisher, thoughtfully.

“Yeah.  Not like I’m a different person or something, but like I’m finally truly me.  Like, up till now I’ve been an imposter, but now I’m the genuine article.”

I wasn’t sure if I was getting it across, but she nodded anyway.

“I had something like that happen recently, too.”

I glanced at her, curiously.  She squeezed my hand.

“You remember our first fight in Redo, when I lost my Lure?”

I wasn’t about to forget that.

“Yeah, you went feral on Dale, tore the shit out of him.  What about it?”

She gave a half smile at that.  Betty liked to tear things.

“Well, this time around I lost the Hook.  Pantheon bastard just flat out destroyed it.  Left me folded down into the Lure.”

I hadn’t heard the details about that fight, so this was news to me.

“Shit, that must have sucked.  Was it Condemner’s fault?”

Normally I’d say ‘my fault’, but Betty got after me for trying to take the blame for Condemner’s actions.  She felt like that was some kind of fake martyrdom or something, so I tried not to do it around her.

“Yeah, in a way.  And yeah, it did suck.  But the thing of it is, I’m kind of glad that it happened.  That’s what I meant by a similar thing to you getting rid of him.”

She was definitely leading us towards the Lair’s main section now, which was worrisome, but I didn’t want to interrupt her.  More guards, more Knights, the occasional Ultra…security was tight.

“Why are you glad?” I asked.

“It is hard to put into words…I dunno, I guess living without each of my bodies gave me more of an appreciation for what part of my thoughts are ME, as opposed to just reflexes, you know?  Does that make any sense?”

“Sure,” I said.  “That’s actually kind of fascinating.  If we ever see Andy again you might want to get with him, compare notes or whatever.  I’m sure he’d be interested in knowing how each of your bodies interacts with your soul.”

I wasn’t actually sure of that, but it seemed like a decent guess.

“Yeah,” she said.

We moved in silence for a bit, then.  I was content to do so.

The sun was warm, there was a little breeze, no one was bothering us, and Condemner was gone.

It was a good day.

“Can you remember any of it?” she asked.

“I…” I hesitated.

“I can’t really, bits and pieces, words and images.  But they don’t have any context, you know?”

Betty reached her other hand over, took mine in both of hers.  We came to a stop for a second.

“That must be so frightening.  Losing time like that.  I…I’m really happy that that monster won’t be taking you again.”

I could never really be sure, with Fisher, whether she was acting or not.  A long time ago I’d made my peace with the idea that she might be fooling me, might not have any interest in me at all.

At the time it had been an easy decision.  I was a virtual orphan, a man with only a few months of real past, and an uncertain future.  Easy to roll with a comfortable proposition, even easier when it was Betty.  Who cared if I was fooled when I wasn’t even real?

But now I found myself wondering, for the first time, really, whether Fisher actually had any feelings for me.

I looked into her eyes, moved in for a kiss.

As we separated and began walking again the question refused to leave me.  Did she really feel anything, for me?  For a guy who was a half a year old, one whose memory wasn’t even necessarily his own on any given day?  One who might have hurt her…

I shied away from the thought.  She’d have told me if Condemner had done anything to her.  I had to believe that.

She pulled me to a stop, pointed at the ground.  We were about as deep as we could get without an official reason for entering the Lair.

“I wanted to come back here.”

I looked down at the ground where she was pointing, but there wasn’t anything to see.

“Back to where She imprisoned me, where She left me to rot with only one of my bodies in the world.”

I hadn’t realized that the underground prison Betty had told me about was beneath the Lair.  That meant…

“Torturer…is right beneath us?” I asked, nervously.  I almost rose up on my tiptoes, recoiling from even the idea of drawing near that creature.

“Maybe, I don’t know.  I’m just using Her Lair as a kind of talisman.  If I can come back here without being afraid, then I could go wherever.”

Betty’s voice was a bit colder now, and she pulled her hand from mine.

“She took something from me, you know.  Same way as Condemner took something from you.  I don’t have any…connection, to whatever I was before the Pit.  No…”

She reached out, made a grasping gesture in front of her, then let her hand drop.

“I get it.  You weren’t real, then.  You weren’t the you that you are now.  She’s destroyed your past.”

Fisher grinned.

“Kind of…it’s more like she has hidden it away from me.  I get, like you said, flashes.  Images and sounds without the stuff that should be around them to make them meaningful.  Like dreams.”

“That bitch,” I said.

I didn’t shout, didn’t make a big production out of it, but Betty seemed to know how much I meant it.  Her grin turned into a real smile.

She brought the Hook out on the other side of me, and I immediately leaned against it.

“I’m a wall now?” she asked.

I had pressed myself between the hooks and such, into a comfortable spot that I’d discovered a while ago.  I stretched up on my toes, scratching an itch on my back with one of its lumps.

“Nah, just my girl.” I said.

“You lean against all your girls, Mr. Nirav?” she asked.

I shook my head, made a smoking gesture with my free hand, like I was taking a drag on an imaginary cigarette and tossing it away.

“Just the ones that support me.” I told her.

She looked into my eyes for a long beat, then snorted.

The Hook stepped aside, letting me take a tumble.

“Dork.”

She said it without heat, fondly.

I reached up, let her help me stand.

“But seriously, fuck that bitch.  Fuck Her for doing that to you.”

The Hook indicated one of the nearby skulls.  I couldn’t make myself care.

“I never really had the passion that Haunter has.  Never knew any other way for the world to be.  But if She wants to fuck with you…I’ll…”

Betty rolled her eyes, and we started to head back.

Adder…

My oldest friend,

Such a twisted relationship we share, such a weird set up.  You pretend to like me, but you are only doing it because you know that if you ever let up I’d bash the world you love.  I pretend to believe what you are saying, because it is more convenient for me.  You pretend not to know that I’m pretending, and I pretend not to know that you know I know, or whatever.

That’s all gonna be over.  The tumors you have this time we can’t fix.  You are just too old and worn out.

I know you read that and you are scared, mostly not for yourself, but because I always told you that if you died it would be super bad for everyone.  That’s still on the menu.

But there is another way to make stuff right.  I have some practice, lately, at losing old friends.  Snitcher took the edge off, and also I have a new boy.  I’m ok with losing you, or ok enough that I won’t do what I’ve always told you that I’d do, if you die just right.

I know, how could I not, that you are often super tempted to take your shot at me.  It is at least half of the fun of having you around.  Will this be the day that you snap and take a try?  You never did, and I kinda respect that, but I often wondered how you’d do it.

Make the stuff in nuclear bombs, hope the explosion would do the trick?  Make something even deadlier?  I’m super curious.

Whatever it was, you are gonna do it to my enemies.  I am sending you on a talking mission to those clowns in the Pantheon.  Try and get in the middle of their secret army, or at least near their leaders, and then use your best trick.  Anti-matter or whatever.  Blast em to hell.

I know you hate killing friends, so the 2 Fists I put on the boat with you are the ones that will survive.  If you fuck things up I’ll kill them.

-Prevailer.

P.S.  Dying as a weapon that I use against my enemies probably is gonna suck, right?  Makes you wish that you’d actually had the balls to fight me, doesn’t it?  The lesson here is that being a pussy doesn’t pay.

P.P.S.  I know about your daughter.  Fuck this up and she gets an up close and personal with Torturer.