It was in lock down. Heavy clasps were engaged, and gleamed with power. The old generators would keep the security system running; there were enough of them in hidden rooms to keep the servers up on the longer running experiments. How much longer they had I couldn’t tell, but USEC had built their equipment strong enough to survive in isolation perpetually.
There was never a guaranteed bastion of safety, and the least they could do is keep their anomalies isolated from the rest of the world.
But that didn’t matter, because the damn thing was locked.
Dean squinted at the lock, tapping his talons across it.
“This isn’t supposed to be engaged,” Dean said, blinking. “We’re not supposed to go here, but it’s supposed to be open.”
Boss pushed Dean to the side with a paw, and placed her arms on either side of the frame. Her muscles bulged and she dug in.
No screech of rending metal. The door built into the subway wall was sturdy and hardened to resist even the most demanding of attempts to break in.
I clicked my tongue. “Dammit. Who would have a key?”
Dean sighed. “The Regent. I didn’t want to have to deal with her for this…”
Boss gave up, scowling at the door, then slammed her leg into it. A long scratch across the plating as the claws tugged down, but even the behemoth of flesh and predation couldn’t stand up to it.
“Then we’ll see the Regent about it.”
Dean didn’t try to sway Jay’s stance on anything on the way back, and Boss muttered sourly about being defeated by a door.
I just wanted to know why it was locked in the first place. It implied that it hadn’t been breached, but that someone in the past had opened it.
Atlanta’s USEC was a bigger branch than mine had been. Why had we been breached, and they hadn’t? The bounty that was inside had to be immense… why wouldn’t the cult have gotten in?
My USEC base had been breached and attacked at the end. While the bombs were still falling, and the cryotubes were becoming active, the Cult of the Watcher had struck. Sabotage had taken away most of the lives, and then time had done the rest.
Fail rate as retarded as it was, even cryopods felt the passage of time.
So why hadn’t this place failed?
The band played again that night, but there was less dancing. The radio in my room muttered and read old world stories I’d never even heard of, with the occasional break to read off a serial that a local Crow writer had panned. The trope and arc structure was off; thousand of years of drift would do that, but I followed it decently enough until the main character started slicing off their sins one by one, abandoning them to die on the ground.
I wanted humankind, but I had Crows instead.
“I’m afraid the Regent’s not in today,” Prin said, standing in the threshold of the building. The Seared Oak towered overhead, blocking out most of the rays of the sun.
It seemed that today, I wouldn’t be going to the base.
“Is that so?” I asked.
“It is,” the guard captain agreed. He loomed out of the building, taking up much of the frame. “For obvious reasons, we tend to keep the Regent’s residence guarded while he’s not there.”
“Of course.” I said.
“Is Quen also busy?”
Prin’s eyes flicked up at the oak for a long moment, then back at me. “Yes.”
I stared at him. He wasn’t breathing. Crows didn’t have to breath if they didn’t want to. They didn’t have to do anything they didn’t want to. The benefits of being an anomalous shapeshifter made of tiny birds.
“Same place?” I asked.
Prin nodded slightly. “They are handling some internal affairs. I’m sorry that I can’t take you to them.”
I frowned. I needed to get at those nodules as soon as I could. Leaving them around was begging for something to go wrong.
I wanted my Omoi back, at least. Tugging my hair out of the scabs ringing the side of my head wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and who knew how long the wound would stay fresh enough to put it back in?
My hand was on the side of my head before I knew it, and Prin stared at the wound. “Is your head bothering you, Warden?”
I blinked. My fingers were slightly tacky from dried blood. Less than a week since I’d gotten it, even if it felt like an eternity.
What was my life at this point, but a series of ghastly injuries, ghastly knowledges, and death?
“Just a bit,” I said. “I need the Regent’s help to fix it.”
“To fix your head injury?” Prin asked, quirking an eyebrow. “The Regent is many things, but a doctor is not one of them.”
“Are there many doctors here?” I asked.
Prin stepped out of the doorway and over to my side. “Here, I’ll help walk you back.”
“You shouldn’t be walking around alone,” Prin said.
“I can take care of myself,” I lied. The gun on my hip wasn’t much of a reassurance in a city of immortals, but it kept most of the anxiety low. It didn’t stop my heart from flickering uneasily.
I was lucky, at least, in that there didn’t seem to be anything of the fey around.
“If you want to find a doctor,” Prin started. He took a step forward, and waited for me to join him. I did. “Then you’ll want to go to the Swan House.”
“The Swan House?” That was still what they were calling it? An ornate mansion that’d been a century old when I’d been living.
What was keeping it up?
“It’s the base of the Inquisition,” Prin said. “And also where the most of our doctors are. It’s sometimes necessary to intervene on certain cases with medical treatment. Rare, however.”
A slight throb to my head. “I probably just need a round of antibiotics.”
Prin clicked. “Then find your way there,” He said, gently.
The Grave of Beasts had movement today. Or rather, it had always had movement, I’d just never been walking through it without something on my mind. A few mindless birds trilled. Prin’s eyes flicked up into the trees to watch them.
A squirrel darted by, clutching seeds. Shortly followed by a fox, tail bushed up behind it. The altercation was violent, and the fox came home the winner, walking away.
The occasional buzzing of bugs. A bee-hive was nearby, swamped with bees. The flowers were blooming somewhere else. The Crows had agriculture and domestication somewhere.
I should find them. Boss would probably find it amusing, even if they others didn’t.
“I bet it’s strange having everyone following you around,” Prin said.
“It is,” I agreed. “I wasn’t exactly exceptional in the old world.”
“You were a doctor, no?” Prin laughed. “That’s like a grand archivist.”
“I was a specialist in the stars,” I pointed out, dryly. “I could tell you about the gods and their rites and their sigils but…” I gestured at the world around me. “It seems like you already know all about eschatology.”
Prin clicked his beak. “I’d like to know how it all happened,” he admitted. “Why the buildings don’t fall right. Why there’s so much life around.”
I turned at the mouth of the wooded glade. Prin looked at the giant city of Atlanta. “Do you think that when we build, our structures will be treated the same way?”
I remembered the Regent’s dreams. Did Prin find himself thinking the same way?
“Only a few ways to find out,” I said. Why weren’t the buildings falling? Why was this world still so marked and labored with mankind’s markings? The serial numbers should’ve been filed off years ago.
A bizarre sort of… Cessation.
I’d already figured out that the world had been afflicted with an anomaly. It was the only reasonable explanation. An emanation of one of the gods, like most of the bizarre facets of this world. But wide enough to afflict entire continents… perhaps the entire planet.
(but not the satellites)
What the hell sort of anomaly could do that? Was it simply enough that mankind was gone that allowed Lord Cessation to seize that much control?
Why hadn’t he done anything more?
What was stopping him from snuffing the rest of life out?
“You look worried,” Prin noted. “Is something wrong?” He cut me off as my mouth opened. “Besides all that I know.”
Several Wardens had been turned into high ranking soldiers in the bug armies, I’d been apart of a project so secret I didn’t even know what it was with my civilian memories, and I was just starting to put together what caused the end of the world.
“Just want to get back to what I was doing, I guess,” I said.
“What was that?” Prin asked, his head tilting to the side.
“Looking for Isaac. The last Warden out from Prime-nest.”
Prin hummed. “You’ll have to ask the Regent about him. Or…” Prin squinted. “I think he spent time with the archivists. Dean, perhaps.”
I flicked my eyes back to Prin. “He didn’t mention that.”
“Probably didn’t want to burden you with it,” Prin suggested. “Isaac didn’t leave on the best of terms.”
Why hadn’t anyone mentioned that?
I narrowed my eyes.
“Shall I take you to your nest?” Prin asked.
I was slow to respond, too busy thinking it over.
I had more questions for Dean… and more importantly, the Regent.. More questions than I really wanted to ask.
But I was going to.