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The Misbegotten

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From the depths of his darkest past can Estefan find the will to save mankind from its deadliest foe in the present? Or will he sit by and watch the destruction unfold with a much deserved smile?

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The Meeting - Earth Summer 2385

The Grav-lifts roared with an intense whirl the moment he let all his weight sink into the adaptive seat. On the passenger side of the Glide-car, he let the cushions of the seat conform to his body before he moved again. Staying still always yielded the highest degree of comfort. He engaged the door seal with an idle flick of a finger over a sensory button. The portal shut with a low-level hiss. When the driver of the Glide-car got in and did the same, the two of them were vacuum-sealed against the outside air.

He grumbled as he tapped a knuckle on his left hand, activating his personal Neuro-Nanoswarm. It gave him access to the millions of processing units he used to oversee the daily comings and goings of the Aegis Synod.

The Aegis Synod.

It was an organization spanning the entire length and breadth of the Sixteen Worlds of Sol and, he alone, was its’ Overlord.

He was simply known as the Keeper. This could mean he was a collector, a discoverer, a finder and holder of all things desirable and undesirable. But, in a real sense, it meant something else.

He was the Keeper of the Peace - a title given onto him as the Solar System’s greatest outlaw and its’ most upstanding citizen. He was its’ greatest cheat and its’ largest philanthropist. Worshipped by many and hated all the same, he was a killer, a torturer. He was a great teacher and lover. He was everything. He was nothing. He was, for as long as anyone could recall, the Keeper of the Peace.

Tiny units, some as big as houseflies, others as small as motes of dust, came to life all about the vehicle. They buzzed and twirled above his head, moving in what seemed haphazard patterns. They were, in fact, doing much more than flying at random.

Before him appeared a sim-screen - a display that looked as real as the screen of any monitor - only this one was floating in the air. It formed a foot and a half from his eyes. Only he could see it. Its resolution was so clear, so real, it was as though he was peering through a window. He was not though. This was a manufactured image. This was not the vastness of Angel Free Town dominating the vista on all sides. He was peering at the digitized web of his empire.

…Ah, Angel Free Town – the megalopolis that was once mine to rule. He smiled, almost a smirk, lips whitening from the pressure. Those were murderous memories of such sweet succulence. So far in the past, we do not remember what we once were…

Angel Free Town was an entity stretching from the southernmost tip of Orange County to the outskirts of Moreno Valley to the edges of Oxnard. These were all cities he remembered from his youth. Cities, to a one, that had vanished under the sprawl of this modern behemoth.

It would have captivated the people he had known in his youth, enthralled them. The sheer magnitude of this human construct was nigh inconceivable. Some might’ve fainted, for Angel Free Town wasn’t just a city if immense width and breadth. It possessed a third, even more, impressive dimension.

It vaulted upward as well.

There were fifteen levels now. Each supported upon an earthquake-proof monolith that reached nearly forty-five thousand feet into the atmosphere. These were skin upon skin of urban landscape. Each one had its’ own projected sky. Each one like a nation onto itself, somewhat aware the others existed.

Don’t be mistaken though, the populace wasn’t segregated or restricted in any way. This was, after all, Angel Free Town. The “free” in its name was the operative word. Nothing was off-limits here.

No, this was not due to some hideous plot or a diabolic control of the population. This was due to the sheer extant of the city itself. No one cared to know the full extent of it.

This was the norm for those living in the gigantic human fabrications called megaliths in the twenty-fourth century. Angel Free Town was one of many such feats of humanity, built across the expanse of Earth. In his youth, this same piece of land had been home to a mere thirty million. Now, it was a man-made jungle of more six hundred million souls.

He shrugged, rueful now. It had been many years since he had walked its’ layered streets like a king, worshipped by men and women alike. Its loyal citizens would’ve done anything for him back in those days of war and famine, racial bigotry and plain, old fashion genocide. They had given him their daughters to screw and their boys to help fight his wars. Oh, how they had rejoiced at the prospect of pleasing him.

He had made historical greats such as Alexander and Caesar and Genghis Khan look like peasants in comparison.

Yes, it had been a long time ago. Before he had defeated the multi-national armies sent to eradicate him and his kind. They were the scourge of the Human Race, back then, all "Muto's" like him. Muto’s were creatures who the government killed on sight. This was years before he and the Aegis Synod brought peace and he became its’ Keeper.

Long ago…

If he had been a king then, well, he was more like an Emperor now. He had outgrown Angel Free Town. It had become too small with time and his ascension. He had needed more space, so he had moved – to space itself. From there he had spread his influence across the entire Solar System.

“Scan for intrusions,” he said. His tone was abrupt. He knew the various sensors within the sim-screen would’ve already analyzed his retinas and verified all ten of his fingerprints. They would’ve taken his vitals. Then, they would scan his body for tampering devices – both mechanized and biological. And they would’ve “tasted” his breath, sampling his DNA. It was an automated process. Done within the first few micro-seconds he’d activated the Neuro-Nanoswarm.

He put it all out of his mind and waited.

“Why are you pouting, Estefan?” asked the driver of the Glide-car.

He rolled his eyes. Fucking bitch!

She was tall with long, athletic legs. She was somewhat thin, medium-breasted with flaring hips. She was beautiful, but the sharp angles of her narrow face, the long thin nose and the pointed chin had the prospect of menace about them. She had dark skin, its’ natural hue of which she preferred. It was true there were many methods of altering it nowadays, but she liked the complexion of her birth. It made her look exotic. She knew this, often using it to her advantage. She wore the same black-colored, bio-spandex jumpsuit she always wore in the field. It covered her lithe form from neck to ankle to wrist. True to habit, she wore the typical, pat and leather surfaced Accelerator Heels as well – spiked and four inches tall. They gave her the ability to run twice as fast as she could when barefoot.

She wore or carried no weapon. She was the weapon. She was his bodyguard, sworn to protect him at all costs. She had done so for many years, having saved him countless times from countless different plots and schemes and ploys. He trusted no one more than he trusted her, and he had reason.

Her name was Flavia, Flavia Ernando, and at one time, more than three hundred and fifty years in the past, she had been his sister.

Step-sister! he corrected himself. And that was a long, fucking time ago!

“Are you giving me the silent treatment?” she asked, playful. She knew she was irritating him, knew which of his buttons to push.

“I see no intrusions into any of the one million, seven hundred forty-eight thousand, three hundred sixty-nine sectors and/or sub-sections, Effy,” announced a voice. It came from unseen sim-screen speakers floating somewhere before him.

“Good. Sentry mode in 10 seconds, please,” he replied.

“As you command,” came the voice a second time.

The Keeper smiled part of the way. All was safe within his Empire for now. “Thank you, Reyna.” He spoke before Neuro-Nanoswarm went from active mode.

“You’re welcome, my dear,” said the voice. Then the sim-screen dissolved before his eyes. Once more, it swirled away to various, out-of-the-way areas within the Glide-car. It broke into thousands of tiny, individual pieces.

“I think it’s not only cruel you named your Neuro-Nanoswarm after an ex-girlfriend, but giving it her voice and mannerisms… well, it may be a little creepy, Eff.” His one-time step-sister was trying her best to get a rise out of him.

He harrumphed, but stayed otherwise quiet.

She activated the start-up, sub-routines of the Glide-car. She waved her hand over the command display to the right of the steering mechanism. Within seconds, the vehicle thrummed to life.

The conveyance itself was brand new… well, almost. It was one of the latest models to come off the assembly lines in old Detroit. This was the same city that had thrived under the advent of the automobile. And, it had long since vanished under massive assembly plants of the present day.

When purchased, it had come to the Synod as your standard model Merc-Ford 5500 SLT sedan with two thousand horsepower generated by a mini-, sub-atomic core. After his technicians and engineers had finished with it, it was something much more lethal. It was twice as powerful. It was four times as fast with so many gadgets and devices hidden within its ebon shell, he hadn’t taken the time to learn them all.

“She was a bitch, Flavia. She used me for the pleasure of my cock. Then, she tossed me aside like a used tampon,” he replied, harkening back to feminine products of a bygone time. He was sullen. Much like he had been as a teenager, when the idea of sex had an emotional as well as a physical component attached to the act. “Thus, it is my contention; she deserves no less than evisceration through electronics.”

Flavia chortled, content to let the silence stretch between them as she pulled from their parking location. She began to maneuver the vehicle through the humongous parking complex. It served the guests of the Disneyscapes Amusement District, built upon the second level of Angel Free Town. The same district they had walked from minutes ago.

Known as Disneyland back in the 21st Century, the amusement park had grown congruent with the growth of its parent company. It had proved one of the most voracious corporate consumers of innovative companies of its era. By the dawn of the 22nd Century, it had expanded. With some help from the Synod, it grew to almost four times its former size and had never looked back.

Now, it covered what she recalled was the city of Anaheim. Another town ground to dust with the passage of time. The Park itself no longer catered to only children now, but to an older crowd as well. It contained square mile after square mile of sectors devoted to every sort of depravity known to humankind. It had long since surpassed the desert failure that had once been Las Vegas as the playground for adults.

Still though, if Flavia had asked herself, what was the least likely thing she would’ve wanted to do this day. She’d have replied, “Visiting Disneyscapes.”

And yet, if she’d asked herself what it would’ve taken to motivate her to make the same trip. She would’ve replied, succinct, "Something huge.”

As it turned out, in precise terms, this was what had happened. Something huge had fallen onto their proverbial doorstep. And, it was this sort of something that made Estefan brood like an eight-year-old boy.

It had come to the Keeper via Optic-mail, a technology so old only the old themselves knew how to use its’ dying and decrepit networks. Since her and Eff were among some of the oldest surviving Human Celestes, well… they had the knowledge. And, they had an account - their last one still in service to be exact.

The message itself had been direct and to the point, but the significance of it wasn’t how they received the missive. It was the content. It screamed like nothing had ever screamed before:

“The Shadow Seed manipulation device is now in danger of discovery. Security of the highest level is required. Compensation Package, if level of service proven adequate, is upward of $2.3Q.”

At first, they and their closest associates had thought the message was bullshit. It wasn’t real. It was the detritus of an aging network trying to save itself from oblivion.

But, it was the rest of the message and the authenticated chem-sig at the end of the transmission that stopped them all cold:

“Meet at the entrance of They Are Small Worlds, Disneyscapes, Angel Free Town on July 1st, 2385 at 3pm PDT. It will be a pleasure to reacquaint our families after so many years.


“Dr. Ahmed Carlos Ball.”

Dr. Ahmed Carlos Ball was a descendant of one of their oldest contacts, a contact that had made them rich beyond belief.

This was before the advent of a Human Celeste. Reaching back in time, this was when all those altered by the Shadow Seed became Mutos. This was when the government had designated Estefan and his family a threat to the existence of Humankind itself.

As a group, they'd become the hunted. There was slaughter everywhere, wholesale murder before the Alter of Anti-terrorism and Righteous Prejudice…

Ahmed Carlos Ball was the ancestral contact that predated all their influence, all their prestige and all their power and money. And now… this special someone was willing to offer 2.3 quadrillion exchange units. So much money for services only Estefan and his system-wide Aegis Synod could provide.

2.3Q, a lot of money indeed!

Even for the Synod. It was the equal of five years profit. How could they turn it down?

“You know, we have no choice, Estefan,” she pointed out. She was explaining it as an absolute truth, and thus, inescapable.

He groaned at the childish proposition. “Don’t be so dramatic, Flavia. There are always choices.”

She wheeled on him just as she wheeled through the traffic and people congesting the parking spire they were trying to exit. “Oh, tell me, you’re not acting flippant, dear brother.”

“Don’t call me that, god dammit! We are no longer related, Flavy. It has been thus for as long as time itself can remember. Do me the courtesy and try not to be cute!” He recoiled in his glove-like seat.

She pulled into a vein of traffic she hoped would lead them from the parking complex and onto a swifter modicum of transportation. Her eyes flashed. “Oh and who’s being coy! Come on, Effy, we have to do this. Are you really gonna trust the Walach Group or the Milandry Sisters, or those Russian idiots? Are any of them to able enough to provide the level of professionalism needed for a job of this importance? They’d botch it from the outset!”

He grunted in acquiescence. She wasn’t exaggerating in the least. Only the Aegis Synod could make something as delicate as the Shadow Spark disappear into thin air. Only they had the technology to make it so. He knew this, though he loathed admitting it. This wasn’t out of pride or stubbornness. He did not like being bullied into a tenuous position, regardless of the payout. He abhorred the cornering affect. It narrowed his options and that was something he could ill-afford. He hadn’t survived this long, because he’d been an idiot.

My mama didn’t raise no fool!

But, Dr. Ahmed Carlos Ball was the key, and this he couldn’t ignore either. Because of that, he intended to find out why. “Take us to ground level,” he began, “I want to see the farms.”

She shrugged and merged into a heavier stream of traffic, directing the Glide-car with deft hands. There was a frown creasing her brow throughout. “Estefan, would you mind turning up the anti-Grav on you suit? Your weight is making the Glide’ drag,” she asked. The edge she’d carried in her tone was absent for the moment.

He mumbled in acquiescence, fidgeting with the lapel of his blazer until he found the correct sensor. With a counter-clockwise turn of his forefinger, he changed the anti-Grav setting within the garment from fifteen to forty percent. It was effective at reducing his weight by one hundred kilos. The Glide-car’s Grav-lifts became almost silent.

“Thank you,” grinned Flavia. She slid the Glide-car into a lane taking them to the ground – the farmland – of Angel Free Town.

Estefan wasn’t a large man or fat for that matter. He was Hispanic by birth and stood just a hair over five foot nine. He was bald by choice with dark brown eyes. He had delicate features for a man – thin lips, narrow face, and a thin nose, tapering into a round bulb at its end. He was lithe, his muscles more wiry than bulky, sporting a slim waist and broad shoulders. It was a trait that had run deep in his family; all the males possessed such a build.

Aside from appearance though, Estefan Ernando was different than your average, run-of-the-mill human. In fact, some would argue, he wasn’t particularly human at all. Back when he was a teenager, the first of these “differences” began to affect him and those he loved most. Within weeks, he was outcast from society, anathema to the human race itself, stigmatized. His classification was of the Mutated, or Muto for short. The powers that be had put him in a caste stripped of rights and basic human dignity. For many years, all that was legal hunted him. Many of the people he loved died before him - all because of the happenings within their bodies.

He wasn’t alone though, not by long shot. This was truth from the instant those changes in him had first begun. In fact, there were many like him – only the changes themselves were different. Then, those like him were thought to be a single group. As the years progressed, it became clearer that one Muto might not be anything like those around him. Muto’s themselves began to classify one another. Some had two distinct abilities. These were the strong ones. Others might only have one, but be more potent than others possessing the same Mutation. Then, there were those like Estefan, who possessed three individual “powers”. They were the most powerful of all. Some would say this signified he was a titan among his kind. Some would say the Keeper was even moreso. Two of his mutations were the most potent to have ever existed within the Sixteen Worlds. What was universally agreed about Estefan though, was he was a mighty Muto and he was dangerous.

Thousands feared him and millions loved him at the same time. He was an enigma, a strange sort of dancer to the tune of the human experience. Many sought his protection, only to loath the forms in which it came – absolute, ironclad and unshakable. It had been this way for most of his long, long life.

First of all, Estefan was a Heavy – a Human Celeste whose body mass density was greater than normal humans. This meant, in layman’s terms, he was hard and weighed as much as a four hundred and fifty pound man. Yet, he, by appearance alone, seemed to weigh no more than one-eighty.

Second, and this was why Estefan had memories that spanned centuries, was he was an Old-Timer. He had aged to his mid-thirties and then stopped. For some reason, he had not aged beyond that point. In fact, when he reached his second century, he began to regress in age a bit. A few years later, this had stopped too. He came away looking no older than twenty-four.

One can always tell an ancient Old-Timer by this trait. There is a timeless sort of youth that looks completely out-of-place, unerring and unnatural. Some will say there is more to it. They will say, “It is in the eyes. They have seen too much.”

Third, and more important, Estefan was also an Andro. He had capability to attract the opposite sex at will. Though, in his case, he’s considered an Arch-Andro - an Andro capable of attracting the same sex as well. This was a trait unheard of among Mutants.

Combine the three and not only do to you have a powerful Muto by human standards, but you have a powerful Muto by Muto standards as well. Thus, one could see with ease why he had risen from the ashes of his past to become one of the richest men to have ever lived. Who could stop him? How would you? Many had tried. Their bodies litter the entire breadth of the Solar System, most to remain forever unfound.

This was why he was the Keeper of the Peace. Only he could enforce it.

Flavia was a Muto too. She wasn’t much like her one-time step-brother, except that she too was an Old-Timer. Beyond being ageless, she was different than him.

She had the ability to see in any wavelength, whether infrared or ultraviolet or thermal. She needed no more than a blink of an eye, or make a mental command, and her eyesight would shift. Because of this, their kind called her a Gazer. She was a Human Celeste with vision that could pierce anything even space itself.

She was also known as an Anabol. Flavia was a Celeste with incredible strength, though her prowess – like Estefan’s weight - was not visible to the naked eye. Other than the fact she was perfectly toned for a woman; no one would ever suspect someone as gorgeous and feminine was as strong as she was. Flavia could not only lift the Glide-car they were riding within, she could throw it as well.

Her sight and her giants’ strength were the two prominent reasons Estefan had named her his bodyguard. And make no mistake; she was that in every sense of the word. His heartbeat, his breathing, his blood pressure, even his various brainwaves were all coded to her ‘Swarm and her ‘Swarm alone. She could tell, from a thousand meters, if he was screwing some broad or taking a shit. If she felt, during the course of either of those acts, he was in danger, she would come. She would kill.

He was, after all, the bigger target; thus, he was one in need of constant security. People had been gunning for Estefan’s head since he’d slain government officials with his bare hands at the green age of seventeen. He had just turned three hundred and eighty-four years old seven earth-months prior. It was easy to imagine just how big a target he’d grown into as the years passed and failed attempts on his life mounted. All the while, his wealth and influence continued to grow. Government’s had long been in fear of him. Their assassins had come in droves.

Nothing “touched” Estefan without her permission.

Well, except for the other members of the Aegis Synod. They had free reign over his person, just as she, but the oaths of the Synod had been signed in more than mere blood. Three hundred and fifty years of unfailing loyalty made it so. The women of the Synod were above reproach. Each of them would lay down their lives for their Keeper. Each of them was a Muto titan just as she and him. And to a one, they loved him, despite having to share…

On the other side of the coin, he was just as protective of them as they were of him. They were his wives and he adored them all.

“So what’re we going to do?” she asked. They had finally emerged from the sprawling transition of the parking complex. The grand vista of Angel Free Town opened before them.

Though he had long left the city he had help build, he still marveled at the great leaps of the Combined Human Race. In architecture and engineering, they were gargantuan since his youth. The complexity of the megalopolis was breath-taking. There was nothing like this on the moon, where he made his home now. There was no need for “layered” cities, growing forever upward upon a monolithic superstructure. Cities now utilized the only space remaining when outward expansion was not an option.

Fifteen layers, he thought. He gazed up at the “reflected” sky. He knew all the while another section of the city stood three thousand feet above his head. It was complete with its own “sky” and highways and streets and vaulted buildings. There were another thirteen layers above that one as well. Just thinking about it boggled his mind. Moreso, when he thought of the frightened boy from the twenty-first century.

Flavia pulled onto Free Town Highway 5, Level 2.

He remembered it as Interstate Highway 5 when he was young. It traversed the same route it had when he was growing up.

Only now, the structure was three thousand feet above the one he’d ridden upon in a combustion-driven automobile. The highway had many levels now, cutting a broad swath through the construct of Angel Free Town’s second level. The differences didn’t stop there though. This was no longer a thoroughfare of concrete and iron rebar. It was Grav just like everything else in this day and age. Forged of a thin alignment of particles, its' gravitational charge was exactly opposite of the vehicles traveling upon it. The biggest difference between the relationship between vehicle and highway was the particles themselves. They allowed a Glide-car to do more than change lanes. They made it possible for the vehicle to change levels as well. It was a three dimensional method of travel necessary in a city the size of Angel Free Town.

There were sixteen levels above them. They were all packed with the same amount of congestion. They were all busy - twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And this was just on Level Two of the city. On other levels, the highway towered even higher.

Flavia swerved their conveyance into the proper junction point. She merged, swift, onto the spiraling connector-ramp. This would take them to the twelve-level equivalent built on the actual soils of the earth. No suspension needed there. They were heading to the ground-level. There stretched the great farms that fed the huge population living above them.

“Take us all the way to the lowest level of the freeway,” commanded the Keeper. With half a mind, he wondered if he could still call the multi-layered river of traffic something as simple as “freeway”. It was so different from the highways of the century of his birth.

Flavia grunted and did as he asked. She recalled how much he enjoyed those return journeys from age-old Disneyland when his family – their family – had been alive. It still amazed her how some of the smallest details of their past could remain so vivid in her mind. She remembered his smiles and animated laughter, glancing at her with flushed excitement as he relived the day. There had been innocence and youthful exuberance in his eyes…

…Before the murders.

Estefan sighed. “We are going find out more about this so-called Shadow Spark and go from there.”

Flavia frowned. “You suspect the Shadow Spark is a farce?”

He rolled his eyes. “Everything is farce until proven to these eyes,” he answered, ominous.

“Ooooo, how auspicious…,” joked Flavia.

He clicked the roof of his mouth. “God dammit, Flavia, this is not a game!”

“You don’t think I know that? Shit, the amount of money they are willing to pay is evidence enough,” she retorted with as much force.

What a bi-polar bitch.

He sighed, releasing some of his frustration. He regarded her. “2.3 quadrillion…”

“Exactly!” she said, pulling into the faster lanes of the second level of the highway. She flipped a switch and they catapulted down to the first level, fast.

Estefan’s seat groaned because of his weight, though his density he had impeded using his suit. If he hadn’t possessed a degree of anti-Grav, he might’ve broken the damned thing.

He squinted as he looked out from the Glide-car to see the farms on the lowest level of Angel Free Town. He hadn’t seen them in a long time. It was nice to lay eyes upon the crops once again.

For some reason, the prospect of growing food always seemed to soothe him. He had loved traveling through the central valley of California for the same reason. In those days, it was the bread-basket of the world.

Now, all arable land on earth produced as much food as the fertile soils of the Golden State had centuries ago. It was the only way to feed the two hundred and eighty-four billion people living on the Earth. It was that way with most of the land surface of the planet now. Even the deserts, humanity had transformed. It was the only reason why cities went “up” and not “out” anymore – farmable land. They needed to feed the masses and the only way to do that was to name all the soils of the earth free of human habitation.

Thus, populations had moved up. Man had demolished the cities of old (or transported them). Their dirts they turned and fortified. Now, they produced food for those living upon the Capitol Planet of the Sixteen Worlds of Sol.

Of course, mankind farmed food elsewhere throughout the Solar System. The alkaline soils of Mars had enough potassium, magnesium and chloride within them. Only small amounts of soluble minerals, heat, shielding and water added could produce vast crops of Asparagus. Strawberries and other acidic liking foods grew like wildfire as well.

Almost every outpost throughout the Sixteen Worlds had some sort of Greenhouse working. Most functioned in the typical two-fold capacity – one, provide food and two, provide oxygen. The upper reaches of Jupiter’s atmosphere held sky-farms thousands of square miles in size. Each one consumed massive amounts of hydrogen. Forever, they stoked the millions of turbines necessary to produce heat. Thus, hectare upon hectare of viable crops could grow at the edge of space.

Still though, many preferred fresh produce, meats and grains from Earth over their out-world counterparts. Even the synthetic crap churned out by machinery couldn’t hold a flame to such succulence. Nothing could. Especially not the “almost new” provisions preserved to the point they looked – and tasted - more like cardboard than anything else.

Only food from the sea had to come from the planet itself and nowhere else. Conditions in the oceans of earth were impossible to recreate on a massive scale. People had long since stopped trying to construct bio-systems of that sort. They resorted to tanks instead. There were too many variables when trying to build an ocean capable of producing seafood fit for human consumption. Most of the time, what came out of them was poisonous to man – Celeste and Being alike.

The one true exception was Europa, but that moon had been off-limits to the outside worlds for centuries.

“Do you think Dr. Ahmed and his people have good reason to fear for the Shadow Spark?” queried Flavia. She had maneuvered the Glide-car to the fast lane, accelerating past 300kph.

“That too needs investigation before we can find a suitable answer your question,” grumbled the Keeper. He preferred to continue with his musings of plants and beasts and things of the waters, than to deal with the issue at hand.

Flavia chanced a glance his way. “Ok, Eff, a hypothetical then. Would his people have reason to fear an outsider trying to get a hold of it?”

Estefan considered her query, scratching at his bald head, traveling at such high speed always made his scalp itch. “If what he says is true, then it is possible many entities – government and private alike – would have a huge interest in procuring something as potent as the ‘Spark.” He paused to look at her. “But then again, if we decided to go after it, they’d have reason to fear just the same. We both know, they couldn’t hold out long against the Synod.”

She nodded, and then her face bunched. “What about us, could we stop this so called Destro-Mancer the good doctor was speaking about?”

He bounced with ironic mirth. “That would be bloody as hell if everything he says about this creature is true. If not, then we’d crush him - or her - like a bug.”

“Yeah, I figured the same, but what are we going to do about it?”

He clicked the roof of his mouth again. She wasn’t going to give up, was she? “We’ll do nothing, for now. We will send out our teams to investigate these claims about the creature. At the same time, we will consult the archives in hopes of learning more about this Shadow Spark. We need to see if the damned thing exists in the first place.” He ran an absent hand about his scalp. “We’ll go from there.”

“It would be incredible and fearsome at the same time, if the Shadow Spark were real.”

“Yeah, anything that can manipulate Celestial Mutations would be an awesome weapon.” He fell silent, a new thought stopping him for a moment. “Have we heard anything unusual coming out of Haumea?”

She shook her head in the negative.

“That’s another thing bothering me about this whole thing. If we have eyes and ears everywhere, why haven’t we caught so much as a whisper about this Destro-Mancer? If it is in fact conquering the dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt, why hasn’t word gotten back to us?”

Now, she shook her head with indecision, a gesture identical to the earlier one.

Estefan could tell the difference though. Three hundred and fifty years together did such things. “And another thing,” began Estefan, waving his hand, “why come to us? Why not go to the Integrated Corporate Board of Directors? I mean, they have a military. They have security. They have trillions and trillions of exchange units to burn on a mission such as this. Why come to us when they could’ve gone to the government?

“I don’t like this at all, Flavia.” He was nodding, emphatic, resolute in his discomfiture.

Her answer was simple. “Secrecy, my dear, the government lacks the ability to keep things quiet. Whereas, we… well… we’re specialists at making things disappear.”

“Oh, I’m sure the Board has its secrets,” countered Estefan.

They did… this he knew, because a good majority of them were a part of the Synod itself. Flavia knew better than to be so naïve. Their children had infiltrated the governing body of the Sixteen Worlds ages ago.

She changed lanes, swift, sliding around slower moving traffic, calm, collected. They were in fact hurtling down the highway.

They had almost reached the agricultural center of the city where the old Metro District of Los Angeles. The Staples Center, LA Live and so much more had once been here. All that stood three thousand feet above their heads now. It had been carefully reconstructed, brick by brick upon the second tier of the megalopolis.

Only six minutes had passed.

The trip would’ve taken them just under an hour back when he was kid growing up in Southern California. Already he could see the humungous processing plants. The forest of twenty-five hundred foot silos seemed to make the mountains surrounding the Great Basin small, almost hill-ish.

“They’d want to mass produce the Shadow Spark, Eff. And that would be playing into the hands of those who’d stop at nothing to get ahold of such technology. I’m not even talking about this Destro-dude.”

He raised his eyebrows. No one ever said Flavia was stupid. Only Celestes would wish something that manipulated their Mutations be kept out of mainstream society. The people Dr. Ahmed Carlos Ball represented knew this.

Well, at least something in this whole fucked up mess made sense.

He saw it then

It was sleek, dark colored. A Glide-car was keeping pace with them, about one hundred and fifty meters back, two lanes to their right. It was one of those extra-long jobs, the sort concealing…

…Ah crap, heavy weapons!

“We have a tail,” he announced, grave.

“Saw it already,” replied Flavia. “I am running its’ signature through the city grid. Seeing that it’s technically still our grid, we find out who these bastards are.”

Estefan glanced around, noticing night was fast approaching. Already the light about them had diminished. Only the running lights demarking the lane boundaries and the lights of the other Glide-cars, -trucks and -transports illuminated their way. The giant fields of produce and grain were disappearing before his eyes.

“Cut our lights. Override the safety protocols in the highway and get us the fuck up to the top level of the highway,” commanded Estefan.

Beside him, Flavia blinked in rapid succession. She switched her vision to thermal as she catapulted the vehicle upward, pushing passed 350kph. They were gone as if they’d never existed.

Access to the grid they had built proved vital once again, especially since they’d come to Angel Free Town alone. Their usual, multi-layered security cordon they’d left on the surface of the Moon.

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