Written by Chris (alcoholandaphorisms)
(Note: due to the demon characters having multiple cover identities they can wear, I will vary between referring to the demon and the covers they inhabit depending on circumstance, to try and keep clear who they are presenting as at the time. For clarity Mz Stone has the covers of Becca Stone and Gwil Short. Mx Blue has the cover of Ryan Winters. Sanjiv is still human)
A burnt out car park in the midst of rows of terraced housing, and 18 year old woman stands – a woman joined with the Child Of All Sins, an abomination from beyond. Her face is a mask of anger, and overlaid with images of the creature she harnesses. Her name is Lisa Walker and ravens of shadow and rage fill the air as she unleashes her power.
In front of her stands Mz Stone, backlit against the river, the peaks of the O2 academy in the distance, and the sound of gulls overhead. She stands out in the midst of this prosaic background, her cover of the man Gwil discarded. Now she stands as was she really is, a fallen angel of the god machine.
Blue electric fire runs down her multiple pneumatic limbs, webs of hooks and USB wires slotting into reality around her, holding the inhuman, metallic octopus armed creature being she is aloft. Mz Stone stand ready to fight.
Behind Lisa Walker her body guards tear at their seatbelts inside the range rover, screaming as they see this creature appear before them. Lisa looks and no longer sees Gwil, but only a machine that, to her eyes, has killed and consumed one of her only friends and mentor, and she will have revenge.
Mz Stone pauses, her arms reaching to the sky, and hooking into the underlying reality. Then the facade falls away, the illusion of the real world, and the true mechanics themselves are shown. the horror and the glory of the god machine.
As Lisa collapses, her mind turning inwards, Mz Stone roils forward, catching her in her strong limbs, entwining her, and dragging Lisa along with her as she scuttles up the building and away. It is too public here. Mz Stone can already feel the markings on reality, the god machine will be investigating soon, and she needs to be ready.
By the time they reach the roof of an old school council flat, Lisa is unconscious. Laying her down upon the roof Mz Stone wonders what to do next. That went badly. very badly. She needs information on how to proceed. Wires slip out wrapping around Lisa’s skull, searching for secrets, some hint of her relationship with Gwil that will help quell this matter.
Images rise from Lisa’s mind, a Sushi restaurant where her and Gwil were eating. Emotions, she perceived Gwil as supporting, kind. One of few who did. Digging deeper, a darker image rises. One Lisa is trying to hide.
A school, her school. Phone in her hand, her father’s voice coming from the other end, Lisa is shaking her head, numb, the words not coming through, not sinking in. Her uncle is dead. Her uncle is dead. Killed in an accident. Her Uncle Nate, killed in a train accident. She just curls up into a ball as the tears run loose.
Light, she is outside. Weeks later. She can hear them whispering behind her back. She known what they are talking about. the facebook photos they have put up. Images of her Uncle, images of the accident posted to her facebook wall. The comments “Lol. Hah die bitch.” The constant messages griefing her, the bullying. She dials Gwil’s number again, but to no response.
Another night. Blood running down her neck. The blade had been so sharp but she still felt the pain. Feels the warmth as her life runs down her neck. It will be over soon. The darkness is coming, but it is not alone. There is something within it. The crucified child, the Child of all Sins. It makes an offer, one she cannot refuse. To show her a way to make amends, to search the great below and find her Uncle’s spirit. To make everything like it was before.
She accepts, and her still heart bursts back to life, but she will never be the same again.
By the time the vision fades, Gwil Short is standing where Mz Stone once was, returning to the protective cover against the view of the god machine. The smell of burnt copper rises from his skin, a flaw, a glitch in the cover. As Lisa stirs he speaks, creating soothing words to try and open the discourse, to reach her while she is still groggy, still receptive.
Lisa’s eyes snap open, instantly awake, a primordial rage behind her eyes. Frost spreads as the temperature on the roof plummets, the entire world going dark. The sun hidden away for a moment. Mz Stone recognises this as the world falls away. She has seen it as a servant of the god machine. The walls of the underworld replace those of reality, endless caverns of screaming spectres and blood. Then the tides are loose, the insects and winged beasts of the underworld surging forth.
Gwil staggers back as they rush over him, boring into his flesh, tearing strips form his skin. He has nothing he can gain here, he knows that, not at this moment. The mechanical limbs stretch from his back, carrying him away as blood drips from Gwil, scaling down the building and away.
Screams of anger follow him down “I’ll find you Gwil Short, I’ll fucking find you. You killed my friends” Lisa looks down after his fleeing form, tears of blood running down the wooden skin mask that covers her face.
Bleeding and worn, Gwil Short staggers away into the alleys, out to safety.
In their temporary lodging, a single rented building in Vauxhall, Ryan, or more correctly, Mx Blue wearing Ryan’s form, looks through their notes of Ryan’s past. Of her contacts and friends. Deciding their next move to assimilate into their new life. Notes lie before them, notes on a man called Sanjiv. According to Ryan’s notes Sanjiv is crashing with friends, finding it difficult to find work. The marks of exposure to the God Machine are all across his life.
Picking up the replacement phone for the one they shattered, Mx Blue dials Sanjivs number. Seeing an unknown number, Sanjiv pauses. The unexpected is unwelcome these days, eventually, as the last ring calls out Sanjiv’s hope for a call relating to a job overwhelms his fear and he answers
“Hello. Sanjiv Mangat speaking”
“Sanjiv, it’s Ryan” Mx Blue says with Ryan’s lips
“Oh hey Ryan, long time no see. How are you?”
“I’ve been better. Look, are you busy at the moment?”
Sanjiv looks around his current workplace, Jagjit’s kiosk “I’m currently busy. I’m working a kiosk near Waterloo. I’ve got an hour left to go before I can grab lunch”
“I’m familiar with the location” Ryan says “Would you be around to meet up then?”
Sanjiv pauses, the wording was odd. They had both been here many times, Ryan was more than familiar with the location. “Sure. Drop by”
Forty five minutes later Ryan stands, discreetly watching Sanjiv’s kiosk. Looking for signs of anomalies. She has seen too much already. The Tower Bridge has a vast clockwork mechanism clung to its underside. Most London monuments are covers for God Machine infrastructure. London is important to the God Machine, a place from which it can affect the whole world. She is so intent on Sanjiv that she doesn’t see the second man until it is too late. A man in grey suit and non descript raincoat, middle aged and with greying hair.
His face is impassive, emotionless, until Sanjiv turns to him, when he lets out a faint smile.
“Sanjiv. It has been a long time since I last saw you”
Sanjiv starts at being addressed until he realises it is Detective Inspector Grey, one of the entities that helped them escape the asylum. “Inspector Grey, what can I do for you?”
“More what I can do for you Sanjiv, have you seen Ryan recently?”
“No – I hear from her occasionally, but I haven’t seen her in person for a while.
Mr Grey looks around before continuing “Sanjiv. You have to be careful around Ryan, she is not what she seems?”
“In what sense?”
Grey swallows deeply, concern on his face “Look. Sanjiv. I hate to bring back bad memories for you. I know I am the last person you want to trust given our history, but you remember the machines don’t you? You see them everywhere, is that right?”
Sanjiv does not answer, but his eyes give away the truth. Grey nods “I thought so. There are very few people with your abilities. Some are gifted, some are cursed. Ryan had similar abilities. Listen, you remember what happened to Dave?”
Sanjiv shudders at recollection “All too well”
“He was a replicant was he not? You have to be careful Sanjiv. Ryan is the same now” A look of absolute empathy and compassion crosses Mr Greys face as he lightly touches Sanjiv’s hand in comfort.
Watching, approaching as fast as they can Mx Blue sees a burst of power as the fingers touch. Mr Grey has marked Sanjiv, laid something upon him.
Mr Grey pauses “She is here, Sanjiv. I must be quick. The thing you think is Ryan is not. It is an Angel. I can protect you but you have to come with me now. You have to come with me right now”
Sanjiv shakes his head “I’ve got forty minutes of work to go, maybe you could keep watch until then? I really shouldn’t move before then, I need this job”
“Sanjiv. I can’t wait. You have to come with me now. I can take you to the police station, we can keep you safe.” Seeing Sanjiv hesitate, Mr Grey continues “Did you know Jadgits wife is ill?”
Sanjiv blinks, He knew she was not in the best of health, but… “Ill? How? She…”
“She is very Ill” Mr Grey says “I can help, I can always help, but you need to come with me now. I’m scared that Ryan may try to hurt her. She’s already tried to hurt Gwil. I’ve tried to stop her. This thing taking your friend. She killed one of my men. It won’t stop until it gets what it wants. I think it is because of your gift, it wants you for itself. It will hurt and kill anyone in its way. Jadgit. Lakshmishree. You need to come with me. I can protect you ”
Close now, Ryan can see Mr Grey clearly, but worse still, two people in police uniforms closing in. Two officers with bland, featureless uniforms, blank badges and static eyes. Their numbers 0100 on their labels. Servants of the god machine closing in on Sanjiv. Sanjiv doesn’t see them until they in the kiosk, standing directly behind Mr Grey. he can hear the cogs moving beneath their skin, smell the burning oil that comes from their pores.
“Err, Mr Grey” He says, words stumbling from his mouth as he nods towards the two.
Mr Grey turns, the two police men do not see him, they look straight past him, straight at Sanjiv. In unison they speak
“Sanjiv Mangat. We require your assistance with our investigation. Please come with us”
Mr Grey slowly steps back, away from them “Sanjiv, I suggest you take the back exit. Meet me out front. Don’t worry I can find you”
Slipping into the back, Sanjiv breaths deeply, trying to compose himself – trying to find Jadgit, to let him know that he will need to leave, that he needs to accompany Detective Grey. Jadgit is not there though, he has left the kiosk in Sanjiv’s hands, there are only a small amount of customers milling around. Outside Detective Grey is running interference, trying to throw up legalise and precedent to hold them up for a while, turning he sees Sanjiv still standing visible “Sanjiv” he shouts” I really do suggest you leave now. These things are going to try and kill you”
Sanjiv grabs a nearby phone, dialling the local transport police “Please, I need help. We have two people impersonating police officers. I have serious concerns they may be a danger. We need someone urgently to attend”
As he speaks Mr Grey crashes through the counter, thrown back by the two officers who close in. Trying to pull himself back up in a low guard stance, Mr Grey imposes himself between Sanjiv and the two agents.
“Sanjiv Mangat, you are coming with us” They say in unison
“Oh god. They put a customer through a table. Please come quickly” Sanjiv shouts
The door flies open behind them, Ryan pushing through “You” She shouts “I am making a citizens arrest for assault and criminal damage!
The first officer, the angel of the god machine, spins around a hundred and eighty degrees. head first, then the body following. It halts, looking straight forwards “Are you designate 0507062485? Awaiting further instructions”
Ryan could smile. A fault in their programming seems to have identified her as a superior. “Return to base and maintain a holding pattern”
“Order acknowledged. Pattern 456. Sending Tick Tock men.” With that the two officers head out of the kiosk and away.
Dusting himself off Mr Grey stands and looks at Ryan, smiling “Quick thinking. I should have realised that myself”
Poking his head around the corner Sanjiv continues speaking to the officer on the phone “They are doing a runner now. heading east” As he sees Ryan and Mr Grey he double takes, outside uniformed officers are closing in, but they do not see the god machines agents walking calmly into the crowd, fading away from sight
Mr Grey stares at Ryan “So. You have come to intervene then”
“You just ruined my surveillance operation” Ryan replies, a cold tone to her voice.
“He is an important asset, as I am sure you are aware.”
“Yes. I am aware”
“He is a stigmatic, as your cover used to be”
“My cover was a great many things other than that”
“True” Mr Grey agrees “She was intriguing, and useful. Then you came along. Now I have a hole in my operation and I need to fill it with another useful resource”
“You owe me” Ryan says “You owe me and you don’t even realise it”
“I owe nothing”
“I removed ticking time bomb that was going to destroy you, and your operations”
“Hyperbole. My operation is perfect”
“You don’t see” Ryan says” Even now you don’t see what she was?”
“A useful agent. Nothing more. Nothing less”
“Oh yes, a very useful agent, but not for you. Double agents are always ostensibly useful”
“Double agent?” What do you mean?” Mr Grey shakes his head “No. She was in that facility for less than a year. The angels couldn’t turn her that quickly … unless. Do you have any proof?”
“I have records”
Grey looks to Sanjiv “What about this one?”
“Yet to be determined”
“He’s a liability”
“Again. Yet to be determined”
“I hope you are not letting emotion cloud your professionalism” Mr Grey pauses “Listen I can’t keep calling you a dead woman’s name. It is not seemly after all”
“No. No it’s not”
“You already know who I am”
“Yes I do” Ryan replies, guarded.
“I assume she kept notes”
“Yes she did”
“Are they destroyed?”
“They are safe”
“They represent a risk” Mr Grey says “My cover has been put in enough jeopardy as it is.” To emphasise the point he holds up his wrist. Circuit patterns are burned into his skin, his eyes are silver like compact disks. He has been risking the God Machine’s attention many a time.
Canting their head to the side, Mx Blue talks freely through Ryan, switching to German “I appreciate that”
Mr Grey follows suit, switching language with each sentence “This asset. If he turns out to be a liability, you will have to neutralise him. So, have you looked any further into Panopticon industries?”
“It’s on the list” is all Mx Blue says
“I suggest you hurry. Those angels were affiliated with it, they are looking for people like him. Do you know why?”
“Do you?” Mx Blue says, still curt.
“I think so. We know stigmatics are assets, but these people have operations involving mass transport and public infrastructure – and we mean that last one in both meanings of the word. They are planning some sort of new closed circuit camera apparatus. I don’t know what the product would be, but if they can survey a large enough part of London then all our activities would be at risk. They are building something that could see through our identities. We can’t allow this to take place or everyone of us in this city are in unquestionable jeopardy. Panoptiocon must be dealt with”
“If what you say is true then I couldn’t agree more” Mx Blue replies “It is not my intent to derail you – this is merely a misunderstanding, or a crossing of tracks”
“We need to take care to isolate our stigmata, to secure him from the machine’s agents. If the angels get to him he will die, or wish he was dead. At least my way will keep him alive and intact”
“Your tradecraft leaves a lot to be desired”
At the moment, yes” Mr Grey admits “We don’t have much time. I need access to him. I’m sure we can negotiate something”
“We can, but here and now is not the time nor the place”
“True. I will leave what information we have, but you will need others to assist you. Let us see how vaunted your tradecraft really is”
Sanjiv has been silent through this, watching, mouth slightly ajar. hearing them switching from one language to another, hearing reference to Ryan being dead. They are keeping something from him, though he can’t tell what. He recognises a word though – Panopticon. “If it is Panopticon you are looking for, well I may be of some assistance there.”
Grey looks around at Sanjiv’s words. His face, utterly emotionless during his conversation with Ryan, now breaks into a genuine smile as he speaks, in English once more “Really? Why are they of relevance to you? What can you tell me?”
Sanjiv speaks of his vision, of the stadium of wired up people, the CCTV network of human eyes, and the head office seen in London.
“Do you know where this place may be”
“I’ve seen the head office”
Mr Grey pauses and then speaks to Ryan “We had an idea before. We had received some intel. Some of our comrades said they had seen an installation that seemed to open into infrastructure bigger than they had seen before. When they broke in though they just found collapsed or degraded infrastructure. This seems to be linked, none of them ever found a way in. Look, there have been a lot of incidents of human trafficking on my radar recently. What you may not be aware of is a lot of those people were stigmatics. I think the machine is smuggling in people, as they used Dave. Human body parts, organic components for the machine. I think your friend Sanjiv is on the list.
Ryan pauses then turns to Sanjiv “Very well then. Sanjiv – I think you should shut the kiosk for the day. We have a lot to talk about”
“Agreed” Sanjiv says “It is a crime scene after all”
Mx Blue allows a gentle smile out of Ryan’s face at this under reaction to the day’s events.
“I’ll deal with the police” Mr Grey says “We have resources”
“Make sure this is filed properly please, so Jagjit is covered for insurance”
Ryan smiles again “Don’t worry. I have feeling next time you see the kiosk it will be looking like nothing ever happened”
“As if new” Mr Grey agrees “So what is your plan Ryan?
“Well – I am compartmentalising a lot of the information right now. However, first there are a few loose ends it would be useful to tie up. Then I would solidify my surveillance, get some solid information to work upon. That would work to prevent provoking misunderstandings with people I don’t want or need to fight”
“You will need to find others, like us.”
“I have a feeling I know one other” Mx Blue says
“Do you think they can be trusted?”
“Can anyone ever really be trusted?”
“No, but you will need some degree of support in this”
“In the case of personal risk, I think it is worth letting this person into some of the details.”
As they talk Sanjiv has been moving around the kiosk, closing up, a phone clamped to his ear. As soon as he had sent a message to Jadgit about this the phone rang in reply. Sanjiv’s voice can be heard occasionally, in soft reassuring tones, explaining that his is fine and there is no need to worry.
“I am part of an agency” Mr Grey continues “We call ourselves HR.” Pulling out a mobile phone, with contact details showing, Mr Grey waves it in front of Mx Blue, the details is only visible for a moment, but he is confident that demonic eidetic memory will ensure they are not forgotten. “Contact us should you need us. We have swords available capable of razing infrastructure. I know one personally who would be very happy to take a shot at one of the angels. She is exquisitely violent ”
Ryan nods, language switching to Russian “Oh, and Mr Grey” They say, extending a hand “The name is Mx Blue”
“Nice to meet you Mx Blue, I am Mr Grey”
“I think we had best leave through different exits” Mx Blue says
“Very well. take care, there are traces of … well I have heard reports of an agency. Not ours, but not machine either. They are very adept at tracking us”
“How do I know you are not a member of that group yourself?”
“Simple – they are human”
Mx Blue pauses “Well, that is interesting. Well, if I need you I will use the drop point”
“Make sure you take some time to come in from the cold, Mx Blue” Mr Grey concludes.
Ryan turns to Sanjiv, Mx Blue feeling a cold snap down their spine. The conversation in front of Sanjiv has put their covers far too close to being broken. “Let’s do lunch sometime?” Ryan says.
Sanjiv waits a moment. This can’t be Ryan, that much is clear, but Mr Grey was being less than honest as well. After an awkward moment he says “Very well. The words coming out coldly and cautious. Things have changed once again.
Elsewhere, down the back streets of London, Gwil staggers, blood pouring from a wound in his gut. Grabbing a bottle from a dumpster behind him he smashes it against the wall. Somehow, in a defiance of logic or reason the reverberations run up his arm, blood coagulating in response and the wound sealing.
That went badly. Mz Stone considers. Even as she thinks, the drivers, the mortals that saw her, now remember not the scene that happened, but that Gwil dived from the car, running into a back alley. Unbeknownst to her, something pushes back, something defends the memory of one who left that scene. The cover is still at risk.
The light shifts, and unseen in the alley, Gwil vanishes, instead stands Becca Stone, garbed in her loose army jacket and camouflage fatigues, gouges and lacerations on her body still visible through her blood stained string vest. The pain comes in another wave as she pushes through the alleys, out of the side of humans
It has to be around here. A safe house this cover knows. Vision fading she slams on the door, once then twice. The door finally slides open, light shining out as Mz Stone collapses inside. Safe. For now. The angels are hunting.