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"I have a simple order," Akovu lied. He played up his age and apparent infirmity, tottering more than his pride would normally allow, and leaning rather more heavily in the walking frame than he actually needed. He let his hand waver as he passed the technician his data chip. "I want unicorns for my foster grand-niece."Author's Notes
The technician's gaze took on a glassy, careful look. She had probably been trained not to show scorn to her customers. They got eccentric types here often, and were paid well enough to cater to it.
"We can do unicorns," the technician said cheerfully, taking the chip. "Are you interested in a miniature variety that can sleep in her bed? We've got one pre-made that purrs, or we can upgrade your -"
Akovu shook his head stubbornly. "It's on the chip," he insisted.
The technician rolled with it like a professional. "Of course, oses." She tilted her head in a stiff gesture of honor, and went to load the data into a viewer. Akovu fought the roaring in his head to approach the receptionist behind the counter. The young man smiled at him. "Have you got an enlarger field for an old man?" he asked winningly, with a sheepish, self-deprecating look. The receptionist fell for it, and trotted off to fetch a field. Akovu let himself slump against the counter, and watched the blink of the security light, catching its pattern until he could slip into the temporary blind spot and reach the machine interface data port to insert a chip with a quick, decisive movement.
A quick command burst from the responder on his wrist, and the port began to merrily import the data. He was back in his frame, looking dazed and vacant, when the technician returned, receptionist at her heels, wringing his hands.
They had figured him out, Akovu could tell in a glance. Whatever else age had wrought on him, his exceptional mind had not lost its sharpness, nor a whit of skill in observation.
"Emoses Akovu!" the receptionist said anxiously. "I can get you a chair, if you like. Or a drink. Perhaps an inebriate?"
"Emoses Akovu, I wouldn't have presumed to -"
Akovu waved them aside, grunting and shrugging and letting his legs wobble. "It's just the fanciful desires of an old man with no children," he said self-deprecatingly, as if their sudden attention was unexpected and misunderstood. He deserved their fawning, and he played them like kittens on his string. His, after all, was the genius that had come up with half of the technology that ran this room - that ran this entire city. These were technicians and commonpeople, simple humans with simple human faculties, barely competent enough to push buttons and run figures. He almost pitied them, with their stupid, narrow existence.
The noise in his head shrieked and jerked, and this wince was real.
It was getting louder, the older he got, and he could not decide if it was his proximity to the event-to-be, or if the event itself was growing in intensity. It was his unique sensitivity to these noises through time, along with his superior intellect, that had allowed him to perfect the use of time-flux as an energy. He could hear the squeals of improperly tuned equipment, feel the shear of timeslip when the fields weren't aligned correctly. No one else could, as far as he could tell. Certainly no one with the mental capacity to understand what they were hearing.
Technician and receptionist were hovering about him, not sure what liberties to take, or how to persuade him to take a seat, or drink, or let them call for help.
The out-of-tune shrill subsided; he suspected that the ebbs and flows presented a harmony of some kind that occasionally damped out. He had been feeding crude manual observations into his own massive computer banks, hoping they could assist him to some conclusions about the sound. The AIs had been less helpful, so far, than even these fluttering mops.
"Oh, don't mind me," he told them kindly. "When you're as old as me, you'll find your own body as strange as this one is to me."
They were too polite to look skeptical. He was responsible for that, too, that cocky sense of immortality. He had invented the creamy treatments that kept the time of their skin running slowly, and no one doubted that his age-resisting organ treatments would exceed the requirements of the trials they were in now. He was going to save the world from aging - just a little too late for himself. The media called him mercenary, but he had some altruistic feelings, at least.
"My unicorns..." he said, leadingly.
The technician jumped at the opening. "Yes, of course Emoses. We downloaded them into the viewer." He handed over the flimsy frame, and Akovu took it. They looked respectable. Memorable. And they would take a while to construct. He doubted that the fool technician had even noticed the innocuous little virus on the chip in the smash of data for the creature.
"You, ah... do you have a good idea of the scale of the... ah... you..."
Akovu let him flounder in his own stupidity for a moment. The ass had the gall to suspect he had made a mistake? After all, what did the premier field scientist of the world know about genetics. Surely, this doddering old man must truly have become senile, creating absurdly large, pre-modern mythical creatures for some proverbial non-relative on a whim.
"A unicorn should make a little girl feel little and safe," he said with a sidelong look. "And my niece is not a little girl." He winked at the technician, who smothered an awkward chuckle.
"I expect it to be made to my directions," he insisted. "Every detail."
The technician nodded enthusiastically. "Exactly as you say, emoses." The tiny blinking light at the computer by the counter went out.
Akovu fumbled his walker turning, and toppled himself over on the receptionist, who was just able to keep him from crashing into the counter. He scattered the contents of his pocket over the floor, and all three of them knelt to pick them up. He pulled himself up by the computer at the counter, and palmed the data chip out of the computer deftly while they were still scrambling for baubles he had picked up on the novelty market on his way over.
"Thank you, thank you," he said, accepting the return of his pocket contents. He patted them into place lovingly, mixing the data chip in with them. "It's a simple order."
"Your unicorns will be ready for conception in about a fivemonth," the technician said nervously. "Of course, we'll send your datalink updates on our progress, and tube photos, if you are interested."
The sound was back, roaring and snapping, much faster than he had expected it. It sounded like fingernails breaking, and bells being crushed mid-tone. Stop, he willed it helplessly.
Akovu's smile pinched at the corners of his mouth. "That will be lovely," he said as sincerely as possible. "I'll look for them."
The smile turned into a smirk as he exited to the private conveyance that waited outside the door for him. Yes, he knew a thing or two about genetics. He'd spent the last seven months coming up to speed on the topic and buying the best equipment, so that he could isolate the anomaly in himself. And that anomaly was now in the central database, uploaded separately from a tiny, harmless-alone script that would add the slice of genetic code into every creature currently being written by the computers. Every fashionable mixed animal, in every ladies handbag that would come from this laboratory, every modified food crop... and every human baby who came in for genetic screening would be subtly altered.
He hadn't really missed the immortality of his own making - every human born within the influence of this city would bear his stamp. He'd made it as genetically aggressive as he thought he could without betraying his cause; it would breed true for generations to follow.
Akovu watched the city fall away from him outside the windows, and his expression betrayed the pain in his head. Even as the sound began to ebb again in the spiraling, ever-changing pattern he was trying to unravel, he thought he could hear an echo of it - not before him in will-be, but behind him in was. Had it always been there? He furrowed his brow, hating the complexity and mystery of it, hating himself for not solving it. His chance to do so was falling away from him, but he smiled to think of the children to follow - children who would also hear the sounds and figure a way to make them stop.
It was a simple order.
I had no intention of writing this, just sat down and let it roll out one day. It explains a lot, while begging more stories at the same time. At some point in the (not so near) future, I suspect we'll travel back and explore more of this time and the time near the Upheaval. But I've got other storylines to tackle first!