And now for something completely different.
Obligatory heap of miscellaneous pieces
Names have this funny way of showing up everywhere, not only places where we least expect them, but even in places where they might actually make sense. Names also, however, have this horrible tendency to be decided by people who have no right to be naming anything, ever.
It was because of this that a small girl named her cat 'Cat' way back when in the mists of time, whatever those are, and thus laid down the basis of the future of what would later be known as the deathgods. It was also because of this that a world was named 'Earth' such that it stuck and the world really did become known as Earth.
And Earth was, all in all, not what Rahah had expected. Granted she had come in a bit by the back way, something about a secret underground facility and a mysterious gate, but the surface was basically standard functional world and full of what she would call Artiilie and what everyone else around here would call humans. But as far as Rahah could figure, 'human' was just the English word for 'artiilie', anyway, or some such. She wasn't really sure, but she also wasn't going to argue, and the mixed coffee smoothie drinks were more than enough to give her a serious liking for this place whatever the case.
And this was just the beginning.
She was small and pale, and might have been considered beautiful by anyone into that sort of thing, but to everyone else she tended to come across more as wild-eyed and dumpy, and with highly suspicious hair. Nobody could trust that hair. Rahah herself had given up on it years ago; the random colours and ridiculous 'dos were merely her resigned attempts to keep it from outright exploding.
She had never actually bitten anyone for mentioning 'frizz' to her, but there had been a few close calls.
There is something to be said for the sheer amount of vitriol that people, especially programmers, are able to put into simple text. Love is much harder. People cannot see love. It is not read; only if they have already heard it may they attribute it to the words before them.
Time, of course, is an illusion - and it is a widely accepted fact that lunchtime is doubly so. That does, of course, assume that you believe in lunchtime at all; if you're the sort of person who gets up whenever and eats whatever whenever if you happen to be hungry, this doesn't really apply.
Kylie Jacobs was one of these people, and her brother Jeremy was if anything more so. As it was, it was three in the afternoon and he was still passed out on his bed and Kylie was done waiting, plain and simple. She had gone to the trouble to come all the way to a colony in another galaxy, and gone through more stages of jet lag than she had even previously known were possible, and she had had it. She was done waiting.
She poured a bucket of whitewash on Jeremy's head, not because this was normal or accepted behaviour, but simply because she'd always wanted to try it.
"Hey boss? Mind if I take some leave? Something's come up."
Langly looked up from her laptop, surprised. Rahah was not one to call her 'boss' unless there was something serious afoot; usually it was just Elizabeth, or if it was a particularly formal occasion or she needed someone military to know who she was referring to, Langly. 'Boss' meant trouble, though she hadn't bothered to knock on the open door, so Langly knew the answer to her next question already, but she still asked. "Anything serious?"
"Not sure yet. Find out when I get back."
Langly nodded. Rahah smiled and wandered off.
Back to Earth, that was. Out here in the Large Magellanic Cloud, they were pretty cut off for the most part, even with the Internet uplink Rahah had managed to cobble together from one of the subspace projectors they'd found in the ruins. Something about how it didn't even get enough bandwidth for anything more in real time than basic texting, even with all the compression modern computer science could come up with, it was just not terribly useful. Lightyears ahead of anything they'd had previously, but still just not terribly useful.
They had found quite a bit in the ruins, though. Three years in what was basically another galaxy, studying the remains of a civilisation that had vanished eons before humans had even got past stabbing each other ovor scraps of fur (okay, some still hadn't gotten past that, but big picture, here), it should have been the makings of a rivetting new sci-fi. Instead it was really fairly boring. Lots of routine, a fair amount of politics (most of which happened back on Earth, thank God), and regular finds of all manner of certainly fascinating artifacts that nobody could quite figure out what they were, or, better yet, of the sort of thing that'd show up in a swap meet, not fanciful new technologies of which they'd never conceived. That washing machine Juarez had found had turned out fairly interesting, after all. Not Hollywood, but something to write home about.
She wondered what people back home would think if they knew their governments were funding this foray into the final frontier of intergalactic clothes washing. Whyever it was all still a secret was beyond her; the only hostiles they had found so far had been a largely polite little world that had just asked them politely to stay away from their planet and then politely shot at them until they'd complied. At least, it had seemed polite since every shot had conveniently missed by about three centimeters. Pity that never worked on Earth.
The only regular action anyone ever seemed to get around here was the odd collapse in the lower ruins. It was shocking that this would happen, really, since the foundations had only been submerged in swamp for the past few hundred years. It would be the mark of a truly advanced civilisation to come up with an entirely swamp-proof foundation - that, or perhaps just plain dumb, since no place remains inhabited forever. Why should it last indefinitely, really?
It made for a job, though. Langly headed up the expedition for largely political reasons - namely that she got the job done with minimal amount of fuss, she knew her folks, and things worked out - because the politics were easier when things went smoothly. There were, of course, those who had suggested that she was in charge because she was a woman and that looked better on the papers. Or, less politely, because she was a woman and she had been having relations with someone higher up.
Her response to this had been to get the one fired and to tell the other to sod off, though not in that order.
Elizabeth Langly was a woman of action - from a desk, perhaps, but most action that has any meaningful effect spends some part of its life at a desk. And Elizabeth Langly was not a woman anyone in their right mind wanted to mess with.
The main character
This is a story about a character. She goes through life like any other, passing from stage to stage and going, in the grand scheme of things, generally unnoticed. She has never been all that comfortable with people, but she is smart and very good at remembering, so most also never realise it. Most, in fact, would think she's a natural, a real social butterfly, even, but such is simply part of the trade.
She is an artist, specialising in character and graphic design, and also forgeries. She hadn't expected this last one, of course, but a college education, even in the fine arts, can lead to meeting some rather interesting people, and when a friend of a friend asked if she could replicate something, she didn't see why not, especially since she really needed the money. So one thing led to another and her skill with a brush and practiced sociality brought her here, to the heart of an underworld of thieves and scam artists.
And life was good. People pay good money for a baked painting, because for those with the graces to pass one off as the real thing, they were very valuable indeed. The risk was on them, too, so she was generally safe, living well behind the cover of her design firm and away from any who would connect the pieces to her even if they were recognised. But good forgeries don't get recognised. That is sort of the entire point of forgery, despite the fact that an artist, in her heart of hearts, above all else wants recognition. She wants people to see her work for what it is, and to be able to remark on it, and most of all, to not attribute it to someone else. She wants credit.
And then she got that credit. Someone recognised one, for one reason or another, and tracked down the source - her. It just wasn't the sort of credit that anyone wants to get.
On sundays, the Corens got together for a round of games, tea, and chatter. It was their little ritual amidst the madness of the week that held them fast as a family even as they all went their separate ways - Mum working toward retirement, little brother Alex studying to be an engineer, and Lilya with her design company and all the other less known aspects of her life. Their father had died in an accident when Lilya was eight, Alex only two. They never spoke of it.
Then Lilya one day found herself standing in her family's living room, surrounded by blood, and faced by a pair of bodies that would be unidentifiable to anyone but a child and sibling.
One had been her mother. The head was basically missing, but it had definitely been her mother. And the other her little brother, who she had practically raised herself while their mother had been working to keep them in this apartment... now his eyeball was on a string hanging from the ceiling.
The entire thing was laid out like a painting. One of hers, with light and dark, shadow and blood, trying to draw the eye right to the subjects at the forefront, as though it needed drawing. It tried. It didn't really succeed, but even in her surprise and rising anger she recognised the technique.
And she was angry, very angry. She had never been so angry in her life, but normally anger wasn't something to be bothered with, rather like grief. Things happen. Deal with them. Try to avoid them in the future. Only practical.
But now the practical side of her just went out the window.
She didn't call the police. She didn't break down crying. She didn't yell or throw things or otherwise show her anger. That would come later. For now she simply turned around and left; someone else could find these empty shells, someone else could deal with them properly.
Someone was trying to send her a message, she knew that much. It was specific, and hanging an eyeball on a string didn't make too much sense otherwise. In fact it didn't make too much sense with this theory, either, but Lilya had already made up her mind that it was so, and someone was going to pay, whoever was behind it. They had taken her family away from her. It was her family. Hers. Nobody took what was hers.
You could have framed it.
There were too many people. Too many fragments. Coren liked fragments, but she understood the importance of moderation - people got confused if there was too much of anything. Confused, worried, angry, fearful... that was people. So everything needed to fit, to suit the people.
The problem was, there were too many people. And Coren simply did not know what to do about this. Too many to keep track of, too many to manage. Too much to follow. The story is too complicated, the guest list too long, the party just plain and simply too large. And simplifying it at this point is simply not an option. This is the world, after all, and everyone in it has their place, and everyone has an effect, no matter how small, that affects the whole.
So all there is to do is to go on. To smile and to mingle and to don the mask of belonging, to be a person for a little while and to be a part of the party that she had gone to all this trouble to put on. So Lilya Coren smiled, took the hand of her colleague, and walked out onto the floor, amidst the music and the colour and the vibrancy that everyone held so dear. This was the world they lived in, so she would live in it too, but though it remained alien to her, they would never know it. She moved from group to group, making conversation, noting interests and lies, and weaving all of those who had answered the invitation into her web.
Time is, of course, supposed to be viewed in order. It's like a good landscape painting - if you only look at small pieces of it in no particular order, you might wind up seeing all of it, but it won't look anything like all of it, just a bit of tree here, some grass there, some mountainy bits, some random birds in the sky, a piece of a cow - it might be interesting, but it doesn't give you the big picture unless you look at all of it as all of it, in some semblance of order. It doesn't tell you the story unless you can see what's going on.
Coren was good at landscapes. In fact she was good at most pictures, everything from portraits to fractals to the abstract. She ought to be. She had spent most of her life painting. Painting, scamming, killing, and then trying to understand it all, because quite frankly it didn't make a whole lot of sense. Life, that is. And death, really.
The only things Lilya Coren truly understood were paint and how to kill. She was good with people, oh, she was very good with them, but she didn't understand them. She could kill them, but that didn't really help. If anything, it made it worse. But she could also scam them, and while that also didn't really help, it had made a good living for her.
It had been something, at least.
Now, though, she had more. She had, in a way, a family - people who understood her and accepted her for who and what she was, and while they weren't necessarily happy about it, neither, frankly, was she. And that helped, somehow.
And she had a job, not only that was entirely legal and paid real money, but was also, in its own disturbing way, a satisfying one.
Coren was a hunter, and in this job was the hunt.
Coren entered Carter's office and watched him for a moment. He gestured for her to sit.
"You know I don't do grief," she said, still standing.
He nodded. "The brass expects a report, however. Mandatory grief counselling is mandatory."
"So what should I say? The truth, or what they would want to read?" She cocked her head. "And which will you write down?"
"You don't need to keep secrets here."
Coren finally sat. "That's not an answer."
Carter smiled slightly.
"I'll tell you how I see it, then," Coren said. "Albright was here. Now she isn't, in some part because we failed her, and I most of all. But done is done, and here we are. Albright is dead. However we feel about that, we need to worry about the living now."
"And how do you feel about that?" Carter asked.
"Irritated. Albright was ours, and he took her away from us. But you already knew that." She looked him over. "But how are you holding up? We're all reporting to you - who are you talking to?"
"You may go," he said.
Coren moved to leave, but paused. "Really, make sure you talk to someone. Please."
Monsters are real. Some wear familiar faces, some hide behind alien masks...
- Dean Carter
- Lead agent
- Gruff and cynical, with a sometimes inappropriate sense of humour
- Daughter was murdered when he was much younger, which is why he got into this whole criminology thing (he'd been a psychologist)
- Nobody is entirely sure what happened to his wife, but it's assumed she's dead
- Garrett Whitehead
- Agent, specialises in obsessional crimes and spirits
- Brown skin, possibly indian, acts jamaican even though he totally isn't
- Usually pretty cheerful, even around dead bodies
- Considered something of a player, but would never actually cheat on his wife
- Clarence Albright
- Agent, specialises in comparative stuff across cultures
- Comes across as a bit of a nerd
- Very quick, agile, and smart, and despite how he's always eating, rather thin
- Soren Miyazaki
- Agent, member of the Aranai and default liaison between different organisations
- Artiilie human
- Lilya Coren
- Agent, specialises in forgeries (also an expert on serial killers, but doesn't like to bring this up)
- Been consulting for some time but new to the team itself
- Half-turn vampire - not really a vampire, and no need for blood, but has some benefits - can sense others, doesn't really age, bit stronger than normal, also very sensitive to holy magic/grounds/people
- Owns a company that specialises in item procurement and creation
- Was a serial killer for ~20 years, spent ~40 years in jail (as Emily Jacobson, had a few funny names given to her by the press), was interviewed a lot as a rare example of a female serial killer...
- Rahah interviewed her and determined that she would be more useful than not if they could earn her trust, and there would be nothing to fear from her
- Despite her imprisonment, still well-connected through her company (most have no idea who she is due to aliases)
- Alex Talbot
- Archivist and researcher
- Has a bureau office, but usually works out of the library archives
- Calls herself a researchist
- Married, but no children despite being in the best position of any of them to pull it off
- Likes to design anti-supernatural weaponry, but it rarely works until Rahah picks up some of the designs
- Everyone calls her Allie
- Rahah Okieshu
- Consultant, joined the team for a specific case of personal interest, stuck around after because it didn't resolve and these were the most likely folks to pick up more, especially considering what they work with
- Deresi, but passes for (a very small) human - generally covers her pointed ears with her hair
- Defense contractor, has connections everywhere and will sometimes be away on business; got in on this initially through those connections
- Used to work as an archaeologist that went to other planets as part of an Air Force project, will sometimes reference things from that
- Can usually be found holding a huge cup of high-sugar, high-caffeine drink
- Never removes the bandages on her forearms