in an instant of great white gravity
r | graphic violence
For the third time, her brother checked to make sure Delta was still in the coma. He sent a single message to her - yes.
The room was just shy of uncomfortably cold. She had a cooling gel eye mask on and a temperature-adjusting blanket over her trunk. Akane didn't know why the cold helped her navigate the field. Phi probably had a theory.
She let herself drift. The fog dissipated and the chessboard materialized.
No, not quite.
The white King was tipped over at her feet.
The only other pieces on the board were her and Junpei - the Black Queen and King. It would have been easy to deliver checkmate. Junpei wasn't facing her; he was staring at the corner of the board, his facial features contorted in anger.
The most important piece, the most vulnerable, the weakest.
Her other pieces were on the sidelines. Her Knights, Carlos and Sigma. Her Bishops, Diana and Phi. No Rooks, though; Sean, Eric, and Mira were among the Pawns. Expressionless, except Diana, who stared directly at her, holding her hands over her heart.
"Did you think you could hide this from us?"
Akane refused to flinch.
Is Diana in the vicinity?
She and Klim are in Atlanta.
I see her.
She's speaking to me.
You're in his feelings, then, not his memories.
Give me a moment.
She waited, heard the crack of bones from off in the distance. Her brother was breaking fingers. The pain would make the feeling unpalatable, and she would be shunted to -
"Fascinating, isn't it? We're in your mind, your projection of what you're learning from the field. Junpei is not your White Knight, and you're the Black Queen."
Is he awake?
Whatever you're seeing, it's your imagination.
Find his damn memories.
Hopefully you're right, and he has the same super-memory his dad has.
She turned away from Delta, stepped off the chessboard. As if her surroundings were made of glass, they begun to crack, then shatter, shards falling all around her.
She was back in the shelter, watching Mira slice up ... not relevant. She didn't need to see this. She closed her eyes.
He said the terrorist was a religious fanatic. She would do best to try to latch onto memories relating to religion. There were 13,623 acts of terrorism last year, but -
A child's cry made her look up. She was sitting on a chair at a dining room table. The table looked old, weathered. A broken glass on the floor seemed to have contained milk. There was a plate with some disgusting-smelling meat in front of her.
Yelling. Likely German.
Diana joined her at the table and Akane gasped. Diana wore a simple, old-fashioned dress, with a scarf around her head.
"He's praying," she said, her voice full of disdain. "Praying, begging God to please, stop it. You're not going to do a thing to stop it, though, are you? You're going to sit there and cry like a little baby. You are a little baby. A little, crying baby - oh, but wait. You could stop it, couldn't you? You're old enough now. Your power has blossomed. You could get right into your father's mind and stop it, but you won't. Go ahead. Watch your father beat your brother, beat me, and do nothing about it."
She uttered something in German - probably an insult, based on the tone.
It clearly wasn't really Diana. Her imagination. A projection. Or, maybe Delta had re-written his own memories to place his real parents here. She struggled to recall what Delta had said about his adoptive parents. Poor, he said they were poor, but had he mentioned abuse?
"Is this relevant?"
Akane shook her head at Diana's question. "Probably not."
The door behind Diana flew open. Seeing Sigma dragging a teenage boy by an obviously-broken arm was disconcerting. He threw the boy - must be Left - to the ground and shouted at Diana before slapping her, so hard she fell out of the chair. He tore a gold-colored cross off the wall before pulling her up by the hair, beating her with it so brutally that Akane had to turn away.
Forget religion. What else would make Delta suspect someone was a terrorist?
He was a terrorist. He would know what to look for.
Diana screamed and Akane put her hands over ears, only noticing then that they were small, a child's hands.
She blinked and she was outside, with Diana standing in front of her. But she was no longer in the old-fashioned garb. Tight jeans, a bright blue bra visible under a translucent white shirt. Her red hair was cut short, sticking up in spikes. She had a tattoo on her shoulder that looked like a ship's wheel.
"Oh," Diana said suddenly. "You here to stop us? Good luck, motherfucker."
Diana didn't stop, but Akane paused to take everything in. They were in front of an abortion clinic. There were the usual protestors, holding up signs with Bible verses and pictures of children, fetuses. But Diana - or whoever Diana represented - appeared to be part of a counter-protest. Their signs were quite different.
'Bring Back Buck v. Bell!'
'Eliminate the Unfit!'
'One Woman's Burden Will Become a Burden to Us All!'
'Keep Abortion Legal for a Fitter Future!'
"Eugenics," she murmured. "Is this -?"
"It's related." Delta stepped up next to her. "You won't find the terrorist here."
He's still unconscious.
What do you see?
I'm not sure yet.
I need you to look up something.
There's a protest at ... at Compassionate Women's Care.
In ... we're in Maryland.
There are two groups of protestors.
Can you look up both of them?
Do you have a date?
It's not like there have been a shortage of protests at women's clinics.
"Do you know why Diana and Sigma have been invading your thoughts?"
"They're your memories. Your thoughts. Not mine." Akane stepped into a gas station on the next block and made a beeline for the magazine rack.
Saturday, March 22nd, 2014.
The newspaper says it's March 22nd, 2014.
"Your brother lied to you about your parents, right?"
Delta blocked her way out of the store. She tried to push past him but he wouldn't budge.
Aoi, are you SURE he's asleep?
There's no neural evidence of mind hacking.
Whatever is going on, your mind is creating it.
"You're not really here," she said to him.
"But he is." Sigma hopped onto the store counter easily, sitting next to the cash register. "Thoughts are energy and energy is matter and all that quantum mechanics bullshit, right?"
"Your brother lied to you about your parents," Delta whispered as he stepped closer. "And now you're lying to them about their child. I didn't think you actually had a conscience, but maybe you do. Maybe this is the manifestation of it."
"You. Are. Not. Really. Here."
This time she shoved him with all her might, sending the old man tumbling to the ground. She returned to the clinic, just in time to see one of the counter-protestors getting arrested.
Police records, Aoi.
There was at least one arrest.
"Why am I here?" she asked him, when she heard footsteps behind her. It was Delta, she knew it was Delta.
"You're looking for clues, right? There's one right here."
She watched as the groups began chanting - 'it's a child, not a choice' nearly being drowned out by something in German.
"It's Lebensunwertes Leben. 'Life unworthy of life'. A Nazi designation, although they clearly don't subscribe to the racist ideologies. They have no problem with people of color, indigenous peoples, Hispanics. The only people they have a problem with are people like me."
"What are you talking about?"
He tapped his temple. "Did you think my eyes were naturally purple? No. Once upon a time, my eyes were not unlike my father's. In addition to the genes for blue-grey eyes and my abilities, they gifted me with a genetic disorder. For longer than you've been alive, I've worn prosthetics. Otherwise, I would be completely blind by now."
"So ... just like Free the Soul, they want to make a ... a 'master race' and then kill the rest of us?"
"Under their current leadership - and by current, I mean the person running it in 2028, not during the period you're viewing now - they have no doomsday leanings."
She sighed in frustration. "Then what good is this?! This doesn't tell me anything!"
"Your fanatic was born out of this group!" he yelled, raising his voice for the first time since this started. "I wasn't able to piece it together, but they are involved!"
"You need to go."
Akane spun around to find Diana again, this time dressed normally, a mournful look on her face.
"No. I don't have all the answers yet."
"She's right," Delta said. "If you stay here too long, you risk getting lost."
Diana grabbed her by the hair, and with surprising strength, began to drag her back to the gas station. Akane yelped in pain as she stumbled to the ground; being pulled by her hair was excruciating, but Diana didn't let go until they were inside.
And then she was back on the chessboard. The Black Queen, alone, with Delta as the White King lying in front of her.
"En passant," he said. "It's time for you to get out of my head."
She sat up with a start, scrambling to get the eye mask off her face. Delta still appeared to be unconscious on the bed next to her; his IV was in place and he was carefully restrained.
"Akane? You okay?"
"A pawn," she mumbled.
Aoi shook his head, brushing hair out of her face before pressing fingers to her neck to take her pulse.
"En passant, it's ... it's a move by a pawn. Not a Queen. Or a King."
"What are you talking about?"
With the adrenaline fading, she felt weak, lay back. "Nothing. I just need a moment."
Her gaze settled on Delta, on the swollen and red hand hanging off the edge of the bed.
"You need to attend to his wounds."
Aoi scoffed. "What the fuck do you care?"
She gestured to the tray table next to her and he handed her the glass of tomato juice. She took a long sip before replying.
"Broken bones can lead to fat emboli. It could kill him. He doesn't get to die before we're done with him."
He grunted in annoyance, but complied.