ROOM AT THE TOP
Previously: Three by Three Stars of Brie
Themesong: Unstoppable by Sia
I groaned… why was I lying on the floor? Why did my head hurt so much? I felt wetness on my face and, raising my hand to it, found that my nose was bleeding. That didn’t seem right… why was… the air in front of me was shimmering, showing an impossible sight. Wolfmen and… and… mosquito-like men were fighting women with animalistic features and strange people I thought I should know but I didn’t… some of them had bits of weapons sticking out of them and everyone was glowing oddly… and right down the middle of this monochrome vision was a hideous crack. Nothing was moving. Everything was still. Everything… I reached out, seeking understanding… and the rift collapsed. There was a flare of pain at the tip of my finger and, looking at it, I saw that the tip of my finger had been shaved clean off.
The cut was unnatural, shimmering unwholesomely and I would have thought more about it… but a rift opened at that moment and a young woman tumbled out of it, followed by four men who all looked similar to each other, but different.
“W… we got here… time?” the girl asked me, and I blinked in confusion.
“In time for what?”
“What year is it?”
I checked my memory, then shrugged. I was pretty certain it was 1912, and I said so.
“Oh… good. Are you her?”
“Am I?” I asked, looking down at myself and patting my chest with my non-blood covered hand. “I seem to be. Her who?”
“The one who took my other self from the city under the sea, the girl who looked strangely familiar asked.
I blinked again, then looked at the other four. Three of them were close enough in appearance to be triplets, though ones who’d lived very different lives. The fourth was clearly their sister… and yet, that wasn’t right. I clutched my head as pain washed through it and I groaned. I knew that face… knew… something… something was… I just needed to… to reach out for the memory… what was memory… what, where was I?
Columbia! I was… was in Columbia… was that right? It seemed wrong.
~IT IS WRONG.~ A voice said inside my head and I screamed.
“Too… too loud… too loud… loud loud,” I muttered, ignoring the looks between the four who were one who were… this was wrong.
~You have forgotten yourself.~ The voice said again, and in the eye of my mind, I beheld a vast palace of ice… and an egg in the center of a courtyard… an egg blazing with white wings… wings of vapor… and a huge crack down the front of that egg, a crack I’d seen… seen… ~You are not this existence. You are she who transcends worlds. She who stood on the sands of time and did not flinch away from eternity.~
I groaned, flashes of imagery flooding from that crack, illuminating the darkness that had swallowed the vast palace of ice. So many doors, so many… and all covered in ice, unable to open. “W… what happened?”
The girl opened her mouth, but I waved her away… though I sensed she was older than me… and yet not… I was 17… how could she be younger? She looked older… but the voice… the voice…
~I am the voice of Rhapsody, that which was called Atura in another Age and Place and Time. I am that which is yet to be born. Disharmony has caused a crack in who you are. You must remember.~
“I… I can’t… to… to much… too much… so much… remember what?”
~I do not know. I have missed much, I sense, since I entered this gestation… But you are not this child of Columbia. You are not a lost Lamb.~
The word Lamb echoed, echoed, echoed across my mind, my awareness… and I knew that word. “E… Elizabeth is the Lamb… She will sit the Throne of the Prophet and… and Drown in fire the mountains of… of…” I wrenched myself away from the girl, eyes widening. “Elizabeth Comstock!” I pointed my finger at her, gasping. “I… I know you… know… know you… do you want some gum?”
I blinked as she blinked. Neither of us knew where that came from, but somehow I knew I could get gum, and I reached… between words and… and there was gum. It was called Juicy Fruit. I’d opened a Tear in… in the fabric of probability… I didn’t know how I knew that was what they were called, but that was what it was.
She took the packet of gum and nodded. “She’s the one.”
“I…” I looked around the room. It was my room, in my family’s house. There were books and drawings of an engineering nature, including a treatise by Rosalind Lutece on the Lutece Field sitting open and a small device I’d built based on the… based on the… n… no… I… I hadn’t built that device… I… I hadn’t been… this was wrong… not right. “I think so. This… this doesn’t…”
~Place your hand against the wall and think this thought,~ the voice of the egg said, and I did so, trusting it somehow. The thought was incredibly complex, a kind of mental password, but it came easily to me and the wall flowered open to reveal… a Warehouse? It was! It was some kind of incredibly futuristic warehouse.
A butler, obviously inhuman, bowed. “Welcome, Mistress. I see you have a new form.”
“I… yes… umm… do I know you?”
“Ah. You seem to be confused. Please, come this way.”
I followed, leaving the others to follow me through, but they ran into an invisible wall. I blinked, looking at the mechanical man. “They cannot come in?”
“It is possible your mind has been tampered with, Mistress. Your own instructions, should you arrive without memories, are to show you to the medbay for a complete evaluation.” I nodded… that… made a certain amount of sense. I didn’t know where this place was… it certainly wasn’t in my parents bedroom, the bedroom that lay beyond the wall I’d opened this… portal through… but it also wasn’t monochrome like the place I’d seen through the rift… the Tear.
I followed the butler into this ‘medbay’ and found myself looking at technology far far in advance of that which had built Columbia… and a recording of a face that looked… familiar. “Hello, Me. If you’re viewing this, then I can assume you’ve reached Columbia, almost certainly through a Tear, and have had some or all of your memories altered, damaged, or erased. This is not unexpected. Please place your head into the scary looking device that looks like this.” It was scary looking. “You will not be damaged by this process. We have tested it on ourselves before.”
I tilted my head, then wondered why I believed her, but the voice of the egg said I could. I stepped under the device and it clamped down slowly and carefully around my head. I felt… nausea… terrible pressing… and then a flood of information poured into my mind… it was sooo very very much… I flinched, but the machine held me fast and the torrent then slowed and stopped after several moments.
I remembered… there was a… I was a… The data was incomplete. There were doors inside my mind that had not opened, but there was one called “Origin” and one called “Rapture” and one called “Infamous” and one called “Tenchi”… an a litany of powers and abilities that went on and on and on… and… I had to sit down and breath.
“When you are ready, the Mistress anticipated that you would want to speak to the Bankers. I have brought you some tea and a soothing agent.” I took the tea, and marveled as a flood of memories, not many in the grand scheme of things, just about 70 of them… conversations and interactions with a being called The Banker, and a second called Mensarius… and a place called ‘The Arcade.’
The me of the recording said, “There are more memories that we recorded, and many more that cannot be transcribed, but the assumption is that either your, our, memories are being suppressed or have been somehow damaged. We have experienced something similar before and took steps to ameliorate it should it happen again. We updated this particular memory package so that you, we, would, if possible, be able to carry out the plan should the Nature of the Bioshock Universe assert itself strongly enough to… do what it has clearly done. Good Luck. The rest of your memories will probably return at the end of the decade, or whenever this world crumbles into nothingness.”
What a lovely thought, I thought as the memories that were very clearly mine fit neatly together. Some seemed strained, others incomplete, but I understood what the me of the past had been planning. Now it seemed I needed to speak to the Bankers… but first, I checked on the contents of two crystalline tubes… no… Cryotubes… noo… one was a Cryotube… it contained a middle aged man… a Booker… Booker-Zachary-Booker Comstock-DeWitt… Bookstock… the repentant Prophet… the other was… was a Chronotube? Was that right?
Why had the other me, the previous me… why had we put this woman into a place where no time passed… I blinked as the information flooded through me… ah… because otherwise she’d escape a meeting that the other me had planned… I had a complete set of instructions that I’d written to myself. And I had only a few hours to set things rolling if my knowledge of events was any indication. It would all begin at the festival… the lottery was only 2 hours away and if I didn’t find Booker there, it was entirely possible I was in the wrong reality. Such confusing concepts.
I left the prisoners where they were and walked where these strange new-old memories were directing me, towards ‘The Arcade’. The door opened as I approached and I entered to find two dapper fellows (one seeming quite untrustworthy, the other frightfully naive) lounging in a strangely circular office.
“I told me to come talk to you,” I began without preamble. “Can you explain what is going on?”
“Err…” said the one behind the desk.
“That is…” said the one on the couch. They looked at each other and then both of them shook their heads.
“Somehow, and we’re not quite certain exactly what happened, you got angry enough to cause a crack in… er… your soul… well, part of it. Your Witch Soul… from the previous setting…” the naive deskman said.
“Except it appears your Witch Soul was also that Egg thing that’s been gathering mental cobwebs for centuries inside you,” the snarky one explained unhelpfully.
“Err… that’s right… and it, that is to say you, ummm… cracked reality? Maybe? It could have been something to do with having that woman in your chronostasis tube…”
“Yes, that tube that you’ve powered with a big of your own power,” unpleasant man continued. “They caused a shunt which threw you into your previous reality before you had finished the one you were in!”
“Now now… I think part of it is that we’d just managed to patch the inconsistency in having two… er… now it seems three… of the same person in the same reality at the same time.”
“So the… Elizabeth in my bedroom is the same as the Elizabeth in the tower who is the same Elizabeth as the one in my medbay?” I asked, confused. “And why are there four Bookers with her? And how is there a female Booker?”
“Two of those statements are essentially correct. The third is less so,” Deskman… The Banker… we called him the Banker… and the other was… was… Asshole McFuckface? That didn’t seem logical… but the Banker was talking again. “The Elizabeth in the tower unrescued and the Elizabeth in your tube are the same entity, they are Elizabeth Prime at two different points along her temporal axis… and the reason we had such trouble connecting the sub-reality of Columbia with the sub-reality of Rapture. Two of the same being can destabilize a reality, especially since possibilities exist here and now that mean if you change things too much, the Elizabeth you have might be changed… as, I believe, is your intent.”
“The third Elizabeth is our work around,” the one with the horrible name explained as if speaking to a very small child. “We located a reality in which the Comstock lifeform told his wife about the origin of the child thanks to that paired reality’s Booker lifeform saying “My Annabelle would have wanted Anna to raised in a nice place… Is your home nice, Mr Comstock? It should be a place of laughter and happiness”.”
“Then how did she get…” I waved my hand, pinky extended.
“She reached back for her father right as the Rift closed. The damage was lesser,” The Banker explained. “It is on par with yours… though that was unintentional. Our intention was to allow you to survive the shifting worlds of this place, since the storyline’s resolution should result in the non-existence of Columbia very shortly. As long as you remain with Elizabella, let us call her, you will be shifted to the reality where Elizabeth Prime is.”
“And the Bookers?”
“That was my idea,” Snarky McClownshoes… clownshoes? His shoes looked normal… why was I thinking such mean things about this… wretched horrible… perfectly unpleasant but harmless… haaa! Harmless!… man. “I found these dregs as we searched realities. One’s from a parallel where Booker was born female. She pretended to be a man to join the military and was more concerned with protecting that image than worrying about being called an Indian. No Anna, no Comstock. One’s from a parallel where Booker never regretted his actions at Wounded Knife.”
“Irrelevant. He viewed what happened as necessary and did not look back. No Comstock. The third was unable to face the taunting of his fellow thugs and brutes and deserted prior to the battle. No Comstock. The last accepted his heritage as part native american and was unashamed of it. No Booker specific atrocities, No Comstock.”
“So you’ve rounded up… wait… are these idiots companions?”
“If you want them to be,” The Banker said, “We used part of the Matrix to solidify them into this time and place to assist you, as your other companions are all back in and around the restaurant you call Bar Ziggy in the Soul Eater World.”
“So… wait… this… this is in the middle… late middle… of the Challenge?”
“Erm… yes. There has been damage to the fabric of both realities and you will need to resolve the situation here before you can resolve the situation there.” The Banker looked somewhat annoyed at the disruption.
“So… wait… this is like saving a game, then switching to another game for a Change of PACE?” I couldn’t believe my ears.
“No… no… more… having your… what do you call it? Ah… your PC need to go into the shop for repairs, so you kick your Playstation and play a game on it while waiting for the PC to come back.”
“Kick?” I asked, then ohed “Boot! You mean Boot. Right. Okay… this is weird. But, like I don’t need 4 Bookers. They’re all the same… and I pretty much already have one… Bookstock.”
“First of all, as you well know, little miss,” Eyebrows McGurk snarked, “You have Comstock pretending to be Booker. And second… all the Bookers and Comstocks are the same being.”
“Wait… so there are… what… five of them forming a single companion? Like the Twins?”
“They are the same lifeform. They are the same companion.” The Banker agreed.
“So… what about Elizabeth and Elizabella?”
“No. They are not the same?” Couchmonkey said.
The Banker shrugged. “The amount of dimensional energy in Elizabeth is far greater than Elizabella. Elizabella is a localized entity. Elizabeth is a quantum waveform, similar to yourself or Tokimi.”
“Oh… I… see. So because Elizabeth contains multitudes, she is all Elizabeths… but because you yoinked Elizabella out of the waters of time and she doesn’t hate her… wow… Comstock is still kinda her father in two senses… gods this is making my head hurt… Because Elizabella wouldn’t go along with drowning Comstock because her Comstock wasn’t as bad as all the other Comstocks… She’s not involved in the quantum Elizabeth… or something. So… do I have choices to make?”
“The choices are largely irrelevant.” Mensarius… that was his name! Mensarius… said.
“She still gets to make those that remain,” The Banker said to his counterpart.
The wall shimmered and a movie screen appeared. ‘Lambnesia’ appeared on the screen, showing me, in two dimensions, a flat image, with lines pointing to it. To my head pointed a line that said ‘EMPTY, DAMAGED, MALFUNCTIONS GALORE’. To my heart pointed a line that said ‘GOOD FAMILY, WEALTHY, LUXURIOUS HOME WITH PARENTS’. To my hand pointed a line that read ‘OPEN TEARS FOR PEEPING AND STEALING… ALSO GOOD WITH A LOCKPICK’. And to my throat was a line that said ‘BARBERSHOP QUARTET SINGING VOICE, STILL ANNOYING.’
Next to the image of me was a picture of what I recognized as a Skyhook, a money bag, and a set of lockpicks, a glowing egg (ATURA, COMPANION IMPORT #1, DROP-IN, INTERFERING WEASEL, KNOWLEDGE OF LUTECE PHYSICS & VOICE OF THE PEOPLE, BARBERSHOP SINGER), a set of 5 Bookers (KILLER, COWARD, LADY, EVERYMAN, PROPHET… the last was flashing), a pair of Elizabeths, one older than the other, both skilled in Tears, Lockpicking, and Codebreaking, but the older was also flashing, and there were two question marked silhouettes.
On the other side of my image was the legend “Balance Remaining 800. Potential Balance Remaining 1100.” Beneath that were a number of drawbacks and the legend ‘Limit 300’… and three lines were already flashing. ‘Scavenger’, ‘1999 Mode’, and ‘Songbird’. The others, ‘Mick’, ‘Fear of Heights’, ‘Unstable’, ‘Dimwit’, and ‘Siphon’ were all grayed out.
I tapped on ‘Mick’ and a warning window popped up. “THAT CHOICE WOULD CAUSE A CONTINUITY ERROR TO OCCUR.” it said. The same happened with ‘Dimwit’ and ‘Siphon’, while the others triggered the message ‘THAT IS CONTRAINDICATED’. I couldn’t even pull up explanations of what they were, though most were fairly obvious.
I could pull up descriptions of the three remaining ones, though. ‘Songbird’ sent this reality’s version of a big-daddy… well, one of the two types (the Handymen filled the construction role of Big-Daddies while Songbird filled the ‘Protect the child!’ role.)… after me… I wondered if I was really as powerful as my new-old memories suggested I was. If I was, Songbird would be no threat at all. 1999 Mode meant I’d be attacked on the regular by people who would be significantly smarter, stronger, and more in command of their Vigors than they otherwise would be… but if my impression of the general level of smarts, strengths, and power of Vigors was any indication, that too was no issue. Scavenger was, likewise, no threat… except to my dignity, as taking it would, apparently, make me into a bit of a kleptomaniac.
Strangely… I had no trouble with this, and wondered why my canines just grew three inches. I wiggled my nose and scratched my ear… with my foot. I looked at myself and discovered that I’d turned into some kind of weasel? No… a ferret. A very large ferret. And somehow I’d stolen the man on the couch’s bowtie without noticing. I handed it back and he looked faintly horrified, shooting a deeply worried glower at the man behind the desk, who just chuckled nervously.
“Okay… I’ll take them, I guess. Seems reasonable or something.” The Drawbacks faded and the Unspent total changed to 1100. A slew of new options appeared, these all costing points. “Do I really do this every ten years?”
“More or less,” the Bankerman said. “Though the average is significantly higher than that.”
“How much higher?”
“This is your sixty-fourth jump and a conservative estimate of your age puts you at more than fourteen thousand years old.”
“I don’t feel that old,” I said, turning back into a person somehow.
“How does someone that old feel?” The sleeze asked wryly.
I poked myself, then shrugged, “Hungry… At night, how come everyone in Columbia doesn’t bundle up? During the day, in summer, it’d be pretty hot here… I’ve been on enough mountains to know that… but there isn’t any great heatsinks to hold that heat… at night it should get pretty chilly. Where do they get their fuel from?”
“Spend the damned points!” the sleeze yelled.
“Err… yes… we would appreciate if you resolved the issue with alacrity. The superpositional state of maintaining your continuity is placing some undue strain on the system.”
“And the viewers are watching! You’re supposed to have spent all your points before the episode begins! This is most irregular!” Mensarius snapped.
“They aren’t your viewers,” The Banker chided.
“I’m getting a coproducer credit. That means my name is on this production.”
“Boys, boys, you’re both pretty…” I had no idea what that meant or why I said it, but it felt smirkworthy, so I did. Then I looked at the options. The Shield option looked nice… it generated a magneto-repulsive self-regenerating anti-damage shield around me… and if I didn’t take it, I ran the risk of being lethally poisoned by something called Shield Infusions… which (along with Health and Salts Infusions) were on sale for what seemed the bargain price of 50 CP. Shield itself would cost me 400 though. Still, a passive defensive barrier that could stop bullets didn’t seem the worst thing on the table, so I picked it up… and the Infusions. Apparently I’d one a week, and each would add 15% to my base health, Salts, or Shield… though I’d only be able to use 10 in each of the three categories… which was less than a year’s worth… But I could provide them to others, which was good. Giving people health usually would be a good thing, right?
My memories told me that Salts were what Columbia called the substance Rapture knew as Eve, and they were a bluish liquid that, when consumed, allowed the use of Vigors… or as Rapture knew them, Plasmids. A source of which I didn’t currently have, requiring my followers to make do with, of all things, smoking cigarettes to recover expended Eve to power the Plasmids I’d created for them… I scanned the items and grinned “Excellent!”. There was a Salts Machine on sale, a vending machine that would completely restock expended Salts/Eve for free whenever interacted with. That was handy. And cheap! Only 50 CP.
That left 600 exactly and there were three ‘skills’ that cost exactly that much. ‘Vigorous’, ‘Prophecy’, and ‘Veni Vedi Vigor’… which was a joke that didn’t actually work, since the first two words were properly pronounced ‘Weni, Wedi’ while the third was pronounced like it was spelled. Ah well, visual humor if nothing else. Prophecy was a hit or miss randomness of peering through time and probability into the future or alternate realities. Meh. I could do that with Tears if I wanted.
The Vigor Twins were both nice, though slightly redundant, each in their own way. Vigorous would give me 2 free Vigors… and from what my new-old memories told me this was a better deal than it would have been in Rapture since CP bought Vigors were more powerful than storebought… which hadn’t been true of Rapture’s Plasmids and Tonics… and Vigorous would half the Salts cost for Vigors (and most likely Plasmids, though that wasn’t guaranteed)… and it even boosted the strength of all Vigors I did use, either CP or Store bought… But… it was limited to what was on sale…
VVV… or WWV really… that was a different kettle of slugs. It gave me knowledge of the Vigor Creation process and the formula (which was oral rather than injected, at a much higher ADAM cost)… All of which was useless to me because I already knew how Plasmids and Tonics were made and Vigors were exactly the same thing (there had been oral Plasmids, since Souchong had stolen the idea from Fink who’d stolen the idea for Plasmids in the first place from Souchong… ah, intellectual property theft). Even though VVV came with the formula for any three currently existing Vigors, that wouldn’t be enough to justify the cost or taking it over it’s brother… except that VVV offered the one thing my Rapture-born knowledge of ADAM biotech didn’t… a fiat guarantee that my experiements with ADAM would lack negative side-effects.
I did a little dance at that and pressed the button. A thought out of the back of my mind suggested “Make an ADAM based Super Soldier Serum.” I mmm’d… wondering what a Super Soldier Serum was… and why I was grinning like a goon.
“There, points spent. Can I go?”
“Not all of them are spent yet,” The Banker said, highlighting the missing companions. “You’ll need to spec out most of your new friends.”
“How many points do they get?”
“The unassigned ones get 500 each, and a free Identity. The choices are Prophet, PI, and Businessman. The points can be spent on Skills and Vigors only. No Items.” I awwwed… there’d been a minibar and an airship I hadn’t had the points for… Maybe I didn’t need Shields? I rolled my eyes at myself. I didn’t need a minibar or an airship either. I already had an airship… I did? My memories were uncertain of this. Something called the Raven… but we couldn’t remember where we’d parked it.
“Ummm… why is the fifth Booker flashing?”
The Banker steepled his fingers and said, “Bookstock as you call him… all the Bookers have the PI package. It includes Sleuth, Shields, and Vigorous. While perks… called skills in this Jumptree… are equally shared across each of them, they are biologically distinct, and so each may have their own suite of Vigors.”
“Ah… and the others have already chosen, while Bookstock is in stasis and can’t?”
“What did they take?”
“Each of them has Return to Sender, which creates an anti-damage shield. A charged shield absorbs incoming bullets into an orb of molten metal which can be launched back at enemies. The upgraded version absorbs and collects incoming ammo for reuse… as impossible as that may be.” I thought about that and chuckled. He was right, it wasn’t like the guns fired then entire bullet, shell and all. “The Coward has the Aerokinetic Charge, the Lady the hydrokinetic Undertow, the Everyman the pyrokinetic Devil’s Kiss, and the Killer has the Corvogenetic Murder of Crows.”
I boggled at the term Corvogenetic… it was, functionally, correct… just extremely unusual. “Uhhh… give him Bucking Bronco. The other option is Shock Jockey. He already has Possession and Devil’s Kiss… oh… oh… Can I know how to make Old Man Winter?”
“Old Man Winter! It’s the Vigor of Ice… it was the Vigor version of the Winter Blast Plasmid. Suchong… or a version of him from some other Rapture, would have created it. In the DLC Burial at Sea, Bookstock can find Bucking Bronco, Shock Jockey, and Old Man Winter Plasmids. They’re drinkable Plasmids, which means they’re essentially Vigors.”
“Umm… It is an existing Vigor / Plasmid?”
“Excellent… then I also know Peeping Tom and Ironsides.”
“I… don’t see those in the tree.”
“They’re from Burial at Sea 2… and they exist… also Amnesia which makes you forget everything you know, Plant Peeper which allows you to read the minds of your houseplants… and Dead Ringer which allows you to Re-Animate dead loved ones and pets! All were created by Fink or Souchong in canon… I’m not even asking for Fungal Healing, Ghost Touch, Kinetic Overflow, Spider Trap, Weapon Slave, or Chameleon… all of which were removed from the games before they were published, but which probably still exist in canon somewhere.”
“You know far too much about this series,” Mensarius accused.
“You know far too little about everything so shut up,” I snapped back, then turned to look at the list, muttering “Shame none of the gear is on offer… wait… gear… ah… heh.” I grabbed a piece of paper and made a list of every single Gear location my new-old memories told me about… many were questionable, but others were or should be set in stone. The contents were randomized… but my memories of Rapture said we’d managed to hunt down every piece of Gear in that city over the decade, though it had required a far larger team of searchers than I had available to me right now and there were more Gear in Columbia than in Rapture. I wasn’t sure why I wanted them, but I did. Many of them were hats and that was doubly important.
“Ooookay… it says I can recruit locals to my specifications or import previous companions… can you bring up a list of the companions I can import… I’m having some… er… trouble,” my head throbbed, “trouble remembering who all of them are.”
The list came up… it was three names long. That couldn’t be right. “I can’t remember fully… but my memory tells me that I have more than that.”
“You do. But all of them are currently in a restaurant quantumlocked by your little temper tantrum and the power of that freakshow you kidnapped,” snarled the unpleasant one. “You get the ones who aren’t. And feel grateful you’re getting those.”
“Ummm… it says that two of them are currently dead and the third is unavailible for activation.”
“Yes… well, you left them behind somewhere. You’ll have to go back and get them before you can actually bring them along,” he said with a sneer.
“So… this is you two being petty?”
“It’s complicated… we could attempt the linkage as normal, but the state of quantum flux…” The Banker trailed off.
“If we did it, it would invalidate your challenge, since they’d be gaining outside challenge abilities,” Mensarius finished for him.
“Ah… very well. I won’t complain… too much. Umm… Astraea… I vaguely… mmm… no… no idea… but something tells me she’s the right choice… give her the Prophet background… that comes with the Cult of Personalty, Baptism, and Prophecy Skills, right?”
“That is correct. She’ll find it easier to gain lackeys, hangers-on, and followers thanks to an aura of importance, strengthen her bond with them thanks to a shared ritual, and see glimpses of the future and sidereal potentialities.”
“Things in other whens,” the odious one snarked.
“Oh… right… Sidiwhatis.”
“She’s teasing you,” The Banker said with a chuckle that carried no small amount of mockery at Mensarius’s expense.
“Yeah… he’s an asshole,” I muttered, loud enough to make it seem like I was trying not to be overheard by the wicked one but heard by the… incompetent one?
“That leaves one slot open and the primary Elizabeth,” His Bankerness said.
“MMM… I don’t want to mess with E-Prime’s personality. For this to work, she has to be herself… will the Private Investigator identity change that?”
“No. It is the Drop-In choice.”
“Ah… then that… give her Sleuth free… Cult of Personality… Voice of the People… and Shield. Don’t want her getting all shot to death. That would be bad.”
“Very good… and the last?”
“Heh… I have an idea… but I’m not gonna tell you.”
“How would that work?”
“I’m going to assign some values and you’re going to put it into… a bottle. And that bottle is going to contain the potential to become the companion… So if it’s accepted, the person who accepts it will become the companion… but they won’t be the companion until they accept.”
“Err… I guess… but you can’t keep the bottle past the end of this jump… well, you can, but it only applies to this setting. So you could, I guess, apply it to one of your other companions once you rejoin them in Soul Eater.”
“Is that really what that other place is called?”
“Uuuuugh.” I shuddered. Sounded ghastly. “Great… anyway… Businessman… Savvy for business Savvy… Engineer… for all the mechanical and biomechanical things in Columbia… and Weeny Weedy Wigor… for well, you know.”
“She’s going after Fink,” Mensarius snarked.
“Fitzroy. Fink already has those gifts natively,” The Banker retorted.
“Mmmm… you might be right. I change my bet to the old man… what’s his name? Slate?”
They shared a look and agreed, two balls of what looked like nothing I can describe floating up out of each and coalescing into paperweights on the desk. The Bankers looked like a standing US dollar sign, while Mensarius’s looked like a Roman Aquila with the logo SPQRI. I raised an eyebrow, then nodded “Senatus Populusque Romanus Imperius… to differentiate the Empire from the City?”
“I think that’s everything… oh… umm… what triggered my temper tantrum?”
“Someone squished that vile worm of yours,” the Roman Banker said, as unpleasantly as possible.
“Well… that wasn’t very…” Another flash of agony and I dropped to my knees, shaking with unaccountable rage. The walls crackled most alarmingly, and the monochrome fuzzlines of Tears began propagating across the face of reality. Not one or two… but hundreds… thousands… I breathed, trying to get my temper under control… and it snapped back into place with shocking ease. It shouldn’t be that… easy. Should it? The nascent Tears vanished without a trace. “Umm… weird.” I wouldn’t notice the frankly uneasy looks on the two Bankers’ faces until I reviewed the memory many many years later. “He’s okay, right?”
“He’s a slug… a hermaphroditic, disgusting-”
“Yes,” The Banker cut Mensarius off. “The Slug is fine. He carries the same imprimatur and fiat as all of my gifts.”
“Good… good… um… right… hmmm… I’ll go… now.” I looked around for something, then saw a small girl rummaging in a cabinet. Her skin was bluish-white and she looked familiar. I oooh’d mentally, then grabbed her, hoisting her into the air. She was holding a candy bar and looked guilty.
“I didn’t know you’d be back so soon… I… I got you a snack?”
“Soul of Ice.” I identified her from the new-old memories. “Sword.”
She pouted. “Can I finish my candybar first?”
I rolled my eyes, but nodded, “Follow.” then rejoined the Bookers and Elizabella. “I am… aware of the pressing of time. We have very little of it before things begin to rapidly destabilize. I expect we shall be attacked in short order by a massive biomechanical birdman named Songbird, as well as by agents of the Vox Populi, Fink Industries, and or the Founders. Step one is to locate Booker, and both Comstocks. Also Daisy Fitzroy if we can. Bookers, please hold up your hands.”
They looked at me, then at Elizabella and, after she nodded, did so. All of them had the letters AD on their hands… I wondered at that. Why did every Booker have that mark? Each was different. “Briefly, tell me why you have that symbol on your hands.”
The Killer spoke first, not looking at the jaggedly stitched scar, “My daughter. Killed in retaliation for my sins.” The Lady nodded sadly, brushing the simple tattoo, “My daughter, stolen by her father.” The Everyman smiled fondly, stroking the ornate tattoo, “Only woman I ever loved.” The Cowards shuddered, looking at the branded scar on his hand, “Attempted Desertion.” Well… I’d asked.
“Okay. Well, we need to get to the city center… and you five will slow me down unless we take my father’s airboat. So that’s what we’re going to do. And each of you are going to have to cover that up. Round here, that marks the False Prophet and that’s a major nono.” I turned to Elizabella. “And you… I know the Siphon’s got to be playing merry hell with your awareness… and I’m sorry about that… but I need it active for a while. Now come on.”
Outside it was just gone 8am and the sun was shining brightly, a lovely clear day. My new-new memories told me that it was July 6th, 1912, succession day. My new-old memories told me it was the day the game began. And the game was, officially, afoot. I parked the gondola near the Fairgrounds and checked the status of the Raffle. There were still tickets available. Booker had not come this way yet. I’d been a little worried about this, as the earliest time that Booker could possibly have come to Columbia had been 8am. This was established as Hudson’s Fine Clothing’s sign stated that it docked at New Eden Square from 8am to 9am at the earliest and 6pm to 7pm at the latest. Since the sun was fairly low in the sky as Booker makes his way to the Raffle, it had to be either morning or evening. Evidence (namely in the fact that the tickets for the Raffle were sold out, but also the fact that Fink was singing Goodnight Irene and that the fireworks were being set up for the night) hinted that it was late in the day, but I wasn’t counting on such things.
“Right then. You kids tour the city. Don’t leave the gondola, but do get a general idea of the lay of the land. I’ll be here and there. If you need me… think very hard and I’ll be here.” I rose from where I’d been carving a symbol into the deck of the gondola… dad was going to kill me… but then again… screw the racist prick. And with that, I ghosted, waiting, waiting, waiting for Booker to arrive.
At 6:13 and 7 seconds, he strode into the Fairgrounds. I followed him, never too close, projecting a sense of ‘do not pay attention to me’, right up until the point where he used the Possession Vigor to take control of the admission machine and gain access to the street known as ‘The Path of the Scroll’. On the far side of that gate, as I’d known they would be, stood the Lutece. Not the Luteces… the Lutece. As the Banker would say, two bodies didn’t mean two waveforms. Granted, there were personality differences… but, then again, the same could be said for all my selves.
I checked the sandwich board Robert (the male Lutece) was wearing, counting the hashmarks. 122… perfect. The approached Booker and asked him to flip their coin… and that’s when I acted. 122 times, the coin had landed heads up. This time it landed… on its edge, and started spinning slowly. I cocked a finger and pointed it at Booker, and he froze… well, not froze… slowed. Massively.
“Hello Roslind. Robert. You’re looking remarkably not dead,” I said, strolling up to them.
“This is a thing that hasn’t happened before,” Rosie said.
“Simply put, and accurate… but hardly useful,” Robert replied.
“How would you two like to not be dead and scattered through space-time?” I asked, cutting off the not-twins banter.
“How would such a thing be accomplished?” she asked.
“Yes, good point,” he nodded. “If the answer is by being dead and confined to a single place, not at all.”
“Right. Smart ass,” I smirked. “I’ve come here from Rapture… the long way round. You know where that is… you took one of the Comstocks there after Anna lost her head, poor duck” Their expression was, in a word, Master Card. “And I’ve brought the girl in the tower a present… and you as well.” I held out the bottle, on a silver salver I’d borrowed from the Blue Ribbon bar for just this purpose. The contents of bottle were purple, and had a C on the label. It was otherwise identical to an Infusion bottle.
“How is this possible?” she asked.
“Oh… it really isn’t,” I replied. “But we’re going to do it anyway… ummm… not to rush you, but I think that’s Songbird diving out of the sky towards us and I really think we should be…” I pulled Soul of Ice and, with a flick of my wrist, launched her arching into the sky, where upon she split into two hundred copies of herself and diced the monstrous birdman into particles so fine one would have needed a magnifying lense to even become away of them. Even the blood was flash freezedried…. I didn’t think it would last. I was betting that more Songbirds would be coming out of Tears any moment now.
“How in the-” he began, but I looked to her and she said, “Right. No time for that. Yes or no Robert? Last time it was my choice to have you jump… this time, you choose.” He considered, then took the bottle and downed half of it, then handed it over. “I… it tastes of…” and then there was a very large explosion as Daisy Fitzroy herself came swinging down from the skylines, aiming her carbine at my head and screaming “Down with the Founders!”
I froze her in place, then winced as I saw how wounded Booker had been by the blast. I summoned a red feather that seemed to be on fire from the Warehouse using the ability the other mes had told me was called ‘Requip’ (they’d said the feather was something called ‘Phoenix Down’) and tossed it at the clearly dying man (he was still slowed massively, so it wasn’t like he was dying particularly rapidly) and then tapped the ground next to him, dumping him into the Warehouse where, if I was to be believed, the robot butlers would whisk him to the medbay for healing.
The Luteces were, of course, fine. When you barely exist, it’s very hard to harm you. “Where to now, since you’ve completely derailed things?” she asked.
“To the Tower to reunite a girl with her father and four of her father’s probabilistic clones… and two of her own… well… one of her own and herself from a little bit into the future. It’ll be fun! Then we can all go talk to ZHC and erase Columbia from existence. Won’t that be jolly and gay?”
They shared that special look that people who don’t know me very well share when I talk to them, the one that says “Oh, Dear, Sweet, Merciful Lord… She’s a raving nutter.”
“Don’t worry. Many many many things can go disasterously wrong… oh look, here come more Vox…” I dumped Daisy into the warehouse and froze all the remaining Vox solid, then launched myself into the sky, assuming that the Luteces, who could be pretty much wherever, would follow somehow. They did, appearing ahead of me then falling behind as I poured on speed… not that I needed to, but stretching your legs… or whatever… feels nice once in awhile.
In fact, I zoomed around Columbia for a good 10 minutes, shooting down two more Songbirds as reality tried to adjust, until I located my Gondola… of course, it was right atop the massive angelic tower-statue that was Columbia herself… and Elizabeth’s home slash prison.
I landed on it and made some introductions, then said “Okay, Lizzy… you and these nice people are all going to go and round up Comstock for me… yes I know, your Comstock wasn’t a giant prick, but this Comstock is… well, anyway. Go get him. He should be on The First Lady… which is…” I looked around, then pointed. Zeroing in on the thoughts of Comstock wasn’t particularly difficult… even if it was highly unnerving.
The minions on the way, I entered the warehouse and pulled Booker out of the Medbay. He looked… banged up, but acceptable. I handed him the Luteces’ Shield Infusion and told him to drink it, and that we were going to get the girl now. He seemed confused, but thanked me.
Twenty minutes later, he was cursing me out as I tied him to a pillar.
“Oh, shut up Booker, you complete prat. This is entirely your fault. Ego, poor judgement, and just spectacular narcissism. I’m Booker, I’m part Injin but my friends are making fun of me so I’m gonna kill people! I’m Booker, my wife died leaving me a single dad… I guess I’ll drink a lot and gamble all my money away! I’m Booker, I’m broke, better sell my infant daughter to some total STRANGER!” I kneed him in the balls and pointed a finger at the second Booker… the one I’d just thawed from Cryo. “I’m Booker, I used to be Zachary Hale Comstock but then I became so obsessed with securing my own legacy that I got a baby’s head CUT OFF then hid from my sins because that’s what I always fucking do!” Then I pointed at ZHC and glowered, “And you, fucking psycho, are the ever loving worst! I’ve fought Zombie Hitler and you make him seem like a prince among lunatics! You psychotic cockwombling fanatic!” I kicked him in the balls twice… he really deserved more. “You murderous, racist, pompous, narcissistic cheese-donkey.”
I spat in his face, then wheeled to Elizabeth Prime (senior)… “And you, little missy. See her?” I pointed at Junior Prime. “You squandered her quite frankly limitless potential FOR REVENGE ON A MAN WHO DOESN’T EVEN REMEMBER THE CRIME!” I looked to Junior and pointed at Senior, “She, by the way, is what happens when you can’t, freaking, let go of your ANGER. Which, I admit, I’m not doing a very good job of at the moment, but my head is really, really hurting right now and if I hadn’t hooked each of theses idiots up with regenerative nanites they’d probably have exploded heads right now…” I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and tried to calm down.
“Booker, Comstock is you, a you that is almost pure evil. A you that deserves to be drowned in a baptismal font… a You that you can and will help destroy. Doing so will erase…” I waved my hand, “All of this. Poof, gone. Never existed. And all you have to do is… accept your own death. It sucks. But you’re going to do it… and I’ll show you why.” I had copied all the memories out of E-Prime (senior)’s head and I showed them to Booker, showed them the true scale of what Comstock was and had been and could become, could make Elizabeth become.
And while he was experiencing all that, I turned to EPs and said “Do you want to know how your story would have ended, had I not dragged you, kicking and screaming, back here?” She jerked, twisted against the magical ropes that bound her and glared at me. I looked calmly back at her and finally, she looked away.
“You’d have made a little girl suffer, forced him,” I pointed at Bookstock, “to hurt her in order to bring up his memories, then you’d have been killed when the Big Daddy smashed you out of the way to kill him… your superposition collapsed… you’d have doomed all of Rapture to save one little girl… you bitch. I’m cold. Really, really cold… but you? You’re an idiot. Massive cosmic powers and you not only threw it away… you threw it away because you couldn’t let go of your anger. Well, now you can do whatever you like to him.” I dropped a loaded pistol into her hands as I released her. “He knows now. Remembers. He’s filled with the same grief and selfloathing he was when he renounced himself… twice now. Go ahead. Pull the trigger. Traumatize your old self. She is what you were.”
As EPs raised the gun in shaking hands, pointing it at Bookstock’s head, I turned to EPj… “You… are, of course, innocent in all this.This was to be the start of your voyage… and it will be. In just under ten minutes, this tower will be destroyed in what can only be described as The Wrath of God. The Siphon will fail and you will understand… not everything… but so much. I cannot save you, little bird. I can only set you free. You and Booker… you’ve got to save each other.”
I took the gun back from EPs when she handed it over. “It’s hard pulling the trigger, yah? But you’re a DeWitt… you’ve got ruthlessness in you, through and through. Now… I’ve got a claim on you. A claim on both you and him.” I pointed at Bookstock. “But only you get to choose how the story ends. You can come with me, and I dump him into a void so dark he’ll think that light has always been an illusion… You can stay here. I’ll release my hold on you, though you’ve no place you belong in this universe anymore. Or… you can face oblivion together and I’ll try to save your younger self.”
She shuddered with the kind of pain that only intense emotion can cause and glared at me. “What gives you the right?”
“Nothing. Nothing gives me the right. Nothing at all. This isn’t about right or wrong. This is about the fact that you are in pain and, like your father, you don’t make good choices when you’re in pain. You’re your father’s daughter… and if I don’t help, your line ends in darkness. “
She wept, wept until I had to have Lady Booker guide her onto the gondola and we took off. From 800 feet away, I hit the tower with God’s own thunderbolt, and it came apart at the seams, the entire vast edifice (minus all the books… my robots had stolen those for the Library) melting away like fog…
And at that moment, four lambs gained access to the full extent of their powers… for two of us… it wasn’t much, to be honest. For two… well, one and a bit more… it was anything but. I watched from a quiet riverbank as Booker 123 went into the water and faded away. I watched as Comstock looked down at himself in horror… and vanished into the realm of the never was. I pointed down at the water, looking to EPs. “This is your last chance. You can, in this moment, be the one who died. You can become her, and take your place with your sisters, and erase him too. He’ll be gone and you’ll never have been.”
She didn’t look at me, but I could feel the conflict, the hate, the fear… they were all there, but she didn’t move, merely closed her eyes and clenched her fists and stood, still as a statue. She didn’t take me up on my offer. I guess I’d made an impression… or at least forced her to realize the truth of the old adage about digging two graves when one sought revenge.
With that, the possibility of a Comstock ended forever. No Booker who went into the water could ever emerge to become Comstock. Only the Bookers who never went into the water could survive… and their lives would be changed without Comstock to interfere. One by one, the Elizabeths vanished until there were only three. Elizabeth Prime of Columbia looked up at me from the water, face sad. Elizabeth Prime stood beside me, tears of thwarted rage pouring down her face for a child who had died for an old man’s narcissism. And Elizabella stood a small way away, surrounded by five Bookers who were out of time…
And then we were outside an office, a baby’s voice crying softly and a rough male voice asking “Anna?” Booker 123 had been reborn, revived by the cosmic retcon, and his Anna was beyond the door in her nursery. No Comstock would come to pay Booker’s debts or take away the girl. This was the moment I’d saved Daisy Fitzroy for. I yanked her out of the Warehouse and whispered ‘wake up’… and then held her as reality… adjusted her. I wanted to feel sorry for her… but she was kinda a sociopath (though with good reason). I adjusted her more, gave her some money and a mission, a very subtle compulsion, then pushed her through the door.
Daisy Fitzroy had, once upon a time, been loyal to Comstock, as undeserved as it might be. Now she could be loyal to Booker… and, though none of them would ever know it, if my tampering did its job right, they’d save each other… just a little bit. After all, someone had to keep Booker from falling off the wagon… and Anna could use a mother figure.
Reality began to fray around the edges, and I could feel my awareness, my old selves, pressing in. Our time, artificially begun, in this reality, was folding in on itself, pushing me back into the role of a very angry little chef… and then, with a click, I was back in Soul Eater… and boy, howdy, was I pissed.
Unfortunately… everyone in the restaurant and for several blocks around it… was asleep. Instead of a fight, Excalibur and Death the Kid (the current Great Old One of Order), were sitting at my chef’s table. “Ahem…” said the sword “We’d like some service please.” I boggled… screw Micheline reviewers… pleasing an entity who lived to make people mad and another who was more OCD than OCD itself was… with my entire staff unconscious… I was going to need a very stiff drink…
Next: Treasure Planet – Ambush!
AN: two jumps in a row where my build ended up being changed thanks to revisions in in the jumpdocument… during the writing process.
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