After climbing out and allowing the door to close, Lieder inspected his reflection in the tint of the driver’s side window. An oblong bruise ran from the front of his upper cheek all the way to his ear.
He smiled in comic nostalgia; it looked strikingly similar to the bruise that Richard gave Tommy in the movieTommy Boy. Lieder loved that movie.
With a melancholy sigh, he turned and walked towards his Padrone building. He missed Chris Farley.
Upon placing his index finger against the pad next to the door, a message appeared at eye level.
Welcome home, Lord Lieder!
One Cyril Anthropist has requested your attendance at a meeting, and he has designated a location. If you would like to accept, please open your expander and follow the directions in the contained message!
Lieder narrowed his eyes suspiciously. He had expected to find Cyril waiting here, but according to his door, he’d already come and gone. Why would he have changed the location without telling him?
There was undoubtedly a reason, and Lieder greatly disliked the fact that he didn’t have any guesses as to what it might be. The assumption had been that Cyril would come to Lieder’s residence, and perhaps prepare whatever futuristic equipment he might have for usage there. After that, he didn’t imagine it would have been much different from a typical therapy session.
As Lieder pulled his expander from his pocket, he boggled over what else Cyril could have meant by ‘preparations.’ Aside from that concern, Lieder realize he’d overlooked another cause for alarm: how had Cyril known where he lived?
Cyril Anthropist has requested your presence.
Would you like to accept this request?
(Standby option enabled by host for 24 minutes and 38 seconds)
Lieder grimaced. Cyril was studying to be a psychologist, and was considered a prodigy by Justus. Lieder’s first impression of the boy matched that assertion. Still, the manner in which Cyril had arranged this meeting was more indicative of a criminal’s rendezvous than it was a doctor’s appointment.
Lieder tapped the ‘accept’ prompt and inspected the image that followed. The expander was displaying its perspective of the scenery behind it, but had a large, green, three-dimensional rendering of an arrow point behind and to his left. As an experiment, Lieder turned in the indicated direction; the arrow moved in tandem, and once he’d turned far enough, it disappeared.
A green line ran along the sidewalk, an effect that reminded Lieder of the white lines that American football broadcasters transposed over their footage to help television viewers understand which yard line would reward the offense with a ‘first down’.
“Record the ultimate destination,” Lieder ordered.
He’d been uncertain if his command had even been possible with this feature, but upon its execution, his expander displayed some simple digital blueprints of the platform that this neighborhood was built upon. The path seemed to lead below the surface.
“Give me a list of local emergency services.”
Lieder didn’t know whether he should fight his caution or not. He didn’t care much to preserve this new life, and it was hard to imagine that Cyril might covet such a thing. Still, if this ‘treatment’ was more extreme than he’d been expecting, Lieder wasn’t certain that everyone would leave this meeting unharmed.
“Contact Triage, the priority of my call is moderate.”
Despite his willingness to wait, he was almost immediately connected to the requested institution.
“Yes, Lord Lieder, how may I help you?”
A young man in the familiar black uniform appeared on the screen. He had carefully donned an expression that was both attentive and respectful.
“I’m bad with these things, forgive me. I find myself suspicious of a meeting a Peer has requested of me, and I’d like a triage unit standing by in case something goes wrong. Am I able to send you the coordinates of the meeting’s location?”
“Yes, Lord, I can even request the export myself. If you so wish, all you need to do is confirm it.”
As the young man had described, a prompt appeared on Lieder’s screen. He quickly confirmed the export.
“Ah, this is the maintenance area for one of the anchor sockets. Would you like us to be on the site, or would you prefer we wait here?”
“Just outside the indicated room, please. If there’s multiple entrances, please be sure to have sufficient staff waiting outside each.”
“Your desire, my imperative. We’ll deploy immediately. It’s an honor to serve you.”
“Appreciations,” Lieder thanked earnestly before closing the communication. “Display directions to the meeting with Cyril Anthropist.”
The expander once again displayed its perspective of the surrounding environment. Lieder began to walk briskly along the highlighted path.
He considered the pistol that he’d tucked into the back of his jeans. Should he drop it off at his room first? Cyril’s behavior was suspicious, but Lieder wasn’t sure that his new life was worth killing for. He was fairly certain that he would never kill Cyril in particular, if all it meant was preserving his own life.
Still, if Cyril’s treatment for Lieder’s supposed self-sabotage was something extreme, how much more radical might it become if Cyril interpreted the fact that Lieder disarmed himself as a sign of suicidal tendencies?
His route brought him to a covered stairwell, stylistically similar to a subway entrance. Strips of lighting ran along the floor, their abrupt end indicating that they descended in an angular spiral.
He had almost half an hour to prepare, but his anxiety was overriding his caution. Coupled with the dread that he had already overcompensated by requesting Triage’s presence, the eagerness to discover what Cyril had planned was eclipsing his apprehension.
The trail brought him down the first flight of stairs and into a short hallway. The solitary door at the end was solid; he wouldn’t be able to see into the room before entering, but it also meant that Cyril wouldn’t know of his arrival until he entered.
Lieder breathed deeply and exhaled slowly. It would be torturous, but he would summon just enough patience to let Triage arrive before he committed. Fortunately, the sound of hastened footsteps from the stairwell came remarkably quickly.
“Are there any other entrances?” Lieder asked, as the first member came into view.
“One, my Lord. It was closer to headquarters, so I assume that its team has already arrived.”
“Excellent. I have no idea what’s waiting for me in there, but the circumstances have made me very suspicious. Can you help me set up my expander so that I can call you into the room with one tap?”
“It would be my honor.”
The young man humbly and efficiently guided Lieder through the process. Once he was certain that these preparations would be waiting for him when he next opened it, Lieder retracted the expander and put it back in his pocket.
“My deepest thanks,” Lieder said appreciatively. “Please make sure the other team knows to rush in the moment that the call goes out. Also, to those of you here, please make an effort to obscure yourselves so that anybody in the room won’t see you when I open the door to go in.”
Lieder turned and walked hastily toward the blank door, allowing his anxiety to spill through the dam of his patience. With a quick flick of his finger, the door flew open and allowed him to rush into the room.
It took him a few moments to connect his surroundings to the vague description his Triage correspondent had given: “maintenance area for one of the anchor sockets.” An enormous corridor divided the room in half, the deep, symmetrical recesses in both the floor and ceiling indicating that the octagonal hallway extended far beyond the scope of this room.
Traces of the evening light filtered through the tunnel from the left, indicating a connection to the outside.
Remembering the enormous pillar that he witnessed rising in the early morning of his second day, he concluded that this must be one of the many sockets that anchored the structure to this platform. If he was correct about the pillar’s function, supplies would travel through the anchor and be delivered to the individual buildings from deeper within the platform.
Counter to his intuition, there was no trace of any significant airflow. Lieder would have assumed that a tunnel connected to the outside, particularly this high above ground, would be filled with deafening wind. Peculiarly, the acoustics were so intimate that he could hear his own footsteps echoing uncontested off the walls.
Cyril and Beri stood on the other side of the chasm that divided the room, watching his approach expectantly. Lieder was curious as to why his matron was here, but Cyril spoke before he could inquire..
“Welcome!” Cyril greeted warmly. “What convenient punctuality.”
“I’d have been here sooner, but I was expecting this – whatever this is – to take place at my residence. I thought I’d figured out why you’d had the car follow me home the other day, but now I’m a little confused again.”
“Oh, so youwereaware of that. I couldn’t tell if the message you left was a cause for concern or not, because I couldn’t tell if you had me in mind when you recorded it.”
Lieder hadn’t suspected Cyril to be the one that had followed him until he’d noticed how strange it was that Cyril knew where he lived. Recalling how amateur the tactic had seemed, it was no surprise that Cyril would make such a civilian mistake; he was neither warrior nor criminal.
While all this knowledge was new, his priority was to alleviate Cyril’s concern for his wellbeing. Lieder figured it was prudent to pretend he’d always known.
“Well, the Mobile Sanctuary that the Padrones lent me made it clear that I was being followed. It even recommended I call the Martials. After our conversation and your seeming concern, I figured you probably wanted to know where to find me, so I deemed it safe to allow you to follow. It’s still very strange to me that we’d have an appointment anywhere that isn’t your office, but I realize that I’m behind the times.”
“They really have such a feature?” Cyril began. “I guess I’ve never been followed before, I was oblivious. That would have been good information to have prior, but I suppose it makes little difference now. Regardless, your observation over the location of this appointment wasn’t all that postmodern. We’d probably meet on my floor of the Anthropist building, usually, but some issues are better treated in different environments.”
“If I may direct the conversation this much,” Lieder spoke carefully, intent on settling this subject before it was forgotten. “Can you explain to me what makes you so certain that I’m self-destructive?”
“The first clue was that I was unable to tell that you possessed Lordship.” Cyril didn’t hesitate. “You’d call it humility, but I’d call it a lack of the ability to appreciate one’s own worth. Next was our conversation about Waldemar’s obsession with control, more particularly when you shared your opinion on the ‘unfair’ nature behind the Peerage’s relationship with Sapients. Most convincingly, your attack on the Comptable boy and the unexplained injuries you incurred this morning suggest a complete absence of concern for your own wellbeing. In fact, it seems like you’re actively seeking your own death.”
Lieder paused for several seconds. He’d avoided the concept before, but after hearing it explained to him, perhaps Cyril wasn’t as wrong as Lieder had felt he was. Lieder’s reasons were valid, but he supposed he’d also have to agree that Cyril’s reasons were valid.
“I can see how you reached that conclusion,” Lieder conceded. “I’m not agreeing to anything, what kind of treatment would warrant our presence here? How would this place ‘fix’ me?”
“Beri, if you’d please.”
Lieder glanced from Cyril to Beri, who began to kneel submissively with her hands on the back of her head.
“Beri, what are you even doing here?” Lieder asked. “What’s she got to do with this, Cyril? And what did she do to deserve… whatever it is you’re doing?”
“What did she do?” Cyril repeated. “Oh, she didn’t do anything. I’m just worried about you, Carl.”
“Worried about me?” Lieder physically recoiled in confusion. “Cyril, that makes absolutely no sense. I knew you were worried, but yet again, what the hell does that have to do with Beri?”
“Of course it wouldn’t make sense to you, that’s the nature of my concern,” Cyril said. “Beri here is just the only Sapient I could find that would properly demonstrate what you need to know.”
“Cyril, you’re a good kid, but you’re still just a kid. Remember, I’m a very old man. I don’t think it’s unfair of me to claim that you aren’t in a position to judge what I need to learn, nor how I should go about learning it.”
“Yes, you are my elder many times over, but the times have changed, Lieder! They’ve changedso. Much.There’s no arguing that the eldest, wisest caveman would need to be educated by a contemporary in order to have any hope of succeeding in your time, even if that contemporary was someone as young as me.”
“Alright, I’ll humor you for a second here. Just what is it you’re going to teach me? Explain it to me, maybe I’ll get the lesson before you have to demonstrate it.”
“Yes, yes, I was planning to! You’re a prodigious man, Carl, I think you understand that this will go much more quickly if you simply observe from here on out.”
Lieder again glanced around the area again. The anchor socket sloped deeply into both the floor and ceiling, conforming in shape to six of the absent anchor’s eight sides. Along the scope of this room, the vertical sides were exposed; while he could easily get inside the socket, the slope back up to the other side was steep. Even if it was possible to climb, it would take an unacceptable amount of time and effort to cross this chasm.
This was obviously crucial to the setup. Lieder could clearly see and talk to the people on the other side of the room, but he couldn’t get to their side if Cyril didn’t allow him to.
“No promises, but for now, continue.”
“Appreciations.” Cyril smiled coyly. “Again, this was born from my concern over your lack of interest in self-preservation. Less obvious was the root cause: your philosophical opposition to the relationship between Sapients and Peers. I believe that your perception of potential injustice in that system is related to your inability to appreciate your own worth. You believe the Peerage’s rights over Sapient lives are exorbitant; that the genetic superiority has not been sufficiently proven. Now, I’m not going to pretend I can present the proof that our ancestors- well, my ancestors, your descendents- required centuries to develop.”
Cyril reached into his pocket and produced a small, plastic cylinder. “What I am going to prove is that your assertions are the purpose of an antiquated philosophy; that they’re nothing more than a workaround for a society without proper knowledge of genetics. I’m going to force you to consider what you already knew, but at the same time, believed to be a taboo knowledge.”
“Your theory is ridiculous, Cyril,” Lieder replied. “A few proteins’ difference in a person’s DNA can’t factor…”
“Yes, you pleaded your case earlier, but I have a way to prove my argument right now,” Cyril interrupted. “I understand your expressed skepticism, but I believe you trust our system. I believe you know that we’re capable of determining a child’s potential by their code, and I believe you’re aware that we would factor genetic mutation and development into our civics. Most of all, Iknowthat you believe pretending to be equal to a person that’s obviously inferior to you is setting the standard for your own potential too low.”
Lieder considered this statement. Cyril wasn’t completely correct, but he wasn’t far from the truth, either. One shouldn’t let another person’s potential inferiority affect the standards they set for themselves. A person that’s capable of doing more shouldn’t perform at a lower level just because average performance was socially acceptable.
“I’m going to pose a couple of hypothetical scenarios,” Cyril declared. “If I were to die, my death would be mourned by the entire city; the media would spend weeks on the topic, investigations would be thorough, and should another party be at fault, retribution would be extreme. Now if Beri here was to die, would the world be afflicted similarly?”
“No, the only thing her death would do is make me very sad, and prompt her employers to replace her. But that’s where the injustice lies…”
“It’s not unjust. By its vary nature, it is justice! Even if it pretended, the collective can’t help but feel the way it does. Our natural reaction is the honest truth! Why deny it? To value two deaths identically is to limit superior potential with an inferior standard. I know you think so, and it’s time I proved it.”
“I’m not going to shoot her to stop you from killing yourself.” Lieder made a prediction from the hints that Cyril had been making. If Lieder truly did believe the things Cyril was saying, Lieder killing Beri to save Cyril would certainly prove it.
“Of course not, that scenario wouldn’t work at all.”
Cyril placed one end of the cylinder against Beri’s neck. When contact was made, the end of the cylinder facing Cyril began to glow red.
“What is that?” Lieder demanded.
“This is a canister with a lethal amount of Pentobarbital” Cyril replied nonchalantly. “It will be irreversible almost immediately. As soon as I find the vein, here…”
Cyril slowly moved the cylinder over the skin on Beri’s neck until the red end suddenly glowed green.
“…there we go. Now, think carefully Lieder. I intend to kill Beri, and the only way to stop that occurrence is to fatally wound me. Again, think carefully. What would happen to you, to my family, and to the world if I were to die? Compare that to what would happen to you, to me, and to the world if Beri dies…”
“Don’t,” Lieder ordered. He pulled his pistol from his waistband and leveled it at Cyril. “Don’t even joke about that. This is far beyond appropriate. It’s one thing to compare your deaths, but it’s entirely different to compare the effects of you murdering her and me killing you to prevent that.”
“I’m insulted that you’d posit I’m joking,” Cyril said coldly. “Society needs every Peer at its best, Carl. Society needsyou. You need to acknowledge your potential to achieve it, and to acknowledge it, you must admit your superiority. The death of a Sapient is well-worth you doing so even a moment sooner, and when you let Beri die, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. Your life is at stake, Lord Lieder, and the only way to reverse your cycle of self-destruction is to confront what’s causing it.”
“Iwon’tlet her die,” Lieder insisted. It was a half-empty statement; Lieder was gambling with Beri’s life by not having pulled the trigger already. He knew that Cyril had Beri’s life in his hand; he could have taken it by now, and still Lieder hadn’t fired. “And if you force me to make the choice, I will kill you before I let you kill her.”
Still, Lieder couldn’t shoot until he was sure that Cyril was serious.
“Of course you’d say that.” Cyril seemed unaffected by Lieder’s declaration. “Only when Beri is gone and I’m still standing will your true beliefs be proven. That’s right, we’ll need a limit to be sure you know when you’d have to act by. I’ll count to ten, then I will put Beri down.”
“Then you’re only giving yourself until the count of seven to live,” Lieder asserted. “Don’t die so needlessly, Cyril. There’s absolutely no reason for this.”
“Beri, you don’t really believe this sickness, do you?”
Beri glanced between Lieder and Cyril, curiously more nervous about the question than her imminent execution. “I’m not really qualified to question either of you.”
“You’re plenty-qualified, Beri,” Lieder reasoned. “Besides, if it’s status we’re worried about, I’m a Lord, he’s still unranked. In terms of authority, I hold more weight. Stand up, go back home.”
“That’s true, but…” Beri looked at Lieder sadly. “But I know you’d never punish me for insubordination. Besides, he’s made a very good point about this being in your best interest.”
“Your death is not in my best interest, Beri, The standard I set for myself has never had an affect on how I treat other people. How would you dying accomplish anything?”
“That could be true, but I’m not equipped to know. All I do know is that if there’s any proof that those of the Peerage are better than Sapients, you are that proof. I’d rather die than see him do what he said he would if I refused.”
“What threat did you make, Cyril? Why is this worth so much to you?! How low will you stoop for it?”
“The quickest solution isn’t always the best one!” Lieder shouted, desperate. “If your theory has logic behind it, you’ll eventually be able to make me understand with simple reasoning. Don’t be in such a hurry; the faster your heart beats, the shorter your lifespan.”
“You have the brains, think this through!” Lieder pleaded. He had analyzed the room: the distance and flow of air would allow him to hit even a small target with very little margin of error, but the result would still be profoundly unpleasant. “You’re one count away from your ignorance killing you, Cyril.”
“Thank you, Carl Flappycheeks,” Beri bid her farewell sadly. “It was an honor to serve you.”
Lieder pulled the trigger, prompting the almost-simultaneous claps of a miniature sonic boom and the projectile’s impact against the wall behind Cyril.
Lieder stared in wide-eyed horror; he had hit his target, but he had also made a grave miscalculation. Almost instinctively, he’d estimated the power of this weapon by its size and weight. That estimation was very wrong.
The forearm and hand on Cyril’s left side were no longer connected. The wrist had been entirely disintegrated by the bullet, allowing the hand and syringe to fall to the ground near Beri’s knees.
The three of them were silent for several moments. Cyril stared in astonished horror at his shortened arm.
“You actually shot…” he mumbled.
Lieder gritted his teeth and reached for his expander. This was very bad. Cyril could still be saved, but even though Triage was relatively close, there was no telling how long Cyril could withstand the psychological and circulatory shock.
“A freak accident,” Cyril said softly, his whole body quivering. “It was a bluff, you didn’t even want to hit me. Just scare me. It would be wrong to stop just because of this.”
He stepped towards the fallen syringe and carefully stooped over to pick it up.
“Stop, you moron, you’re hypovolemic!” Lieder cried, simultaneously opening his expander and retraining his gun on Cyril. “The more you move around, the quicker you’ll bleed out.”
“Don’t change the subject, Lieder!” Cyril’s voice was rife with anguish. “Nothing has changed, this needs to happen!”
“I’ll shoot to kill this time!” Lieder warned. He initiated the call he’d programmed beforehand. “Drop the syringe and let Triage save you.”
“You’re calling them, right? I won’t move much more, just enough to deliver the injection…”
Cyril had placed the syringe back against Beri’s neck. Even in his traumatized state, it would take only fractions of a second to find the vein and inject the lethal anesthetic.
Without heed to where he was aiming, Lieder pulled the trigger.
Cyril fell backward, the force of the blow enough to lift him off his feet. Again, the distinct sound of distant impact could be heard against the far wall. The bullet had barely slowed in its passage through Cyril’s chest.
The door into Beri and Cyril’s half of the room slid open and the Triage unit flooded in, rushing towards Cyril without a hint of hesitation.
Lieder lowered his gun hand to rest at his side. His body trembled uncontrollably, and tears streamed from his eyes.
Long ago, he’d conditioned himself to never hesitate when that feeling arose. When adrenaline pinched his heart, he’d always carry through with whatever contingency he was debating over, even if it was only partially formed. When Cyril repositioned the syringe against Beri’s neck, this instinct proved that the many long years had not atrophied it in the slightest.
Lieder had known that the first time one person kills another is the hardest, and therefore, a person that has killed before becomes much more prone to repeating the sin. He had known that his philosophy and morals conflicted greatly with this society’s. He’d predicted that this would mean he’d soon bloody the hands of the child whose body he involuntarily inhabited.
The cartoon character on Lieder’s shirt had disappeared entirely; in its place were two lines of text.
My vital signs indicate a dangerous condition.
Contact Triage immediately, I need help!
Lieder hated being right.