The Price of Independence - Day 26

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Kaylene gasped and backed away from the ore stone; Altman held it absently, staring at it for several moments. Finally he placed it on a table across the room from them, and away from the wall full of pots and pans and dishes and such things. “Such a small amount won’t cause any harm of note, though it’s better to be safe of course. I’ll contain it properly in due course.”

Kaylene nodded. “So that’s what he was after.”

“No doubt to take back with him to the Academy and Conclave, as proof of his claims.” He covered Deman’s face and unclosing eyes with a handkerchief. “You know, with my life so wrapped up in my studies, I haven’t the faintest idea what rites are appropriate, nor even what either of them believed.”

“A simple burial should be enough I think.”

“Yes. In the hills, but far from the electrite. They’ve had plenty enough of that in life.” He was surprised at how clear-headed he felt, yet how detached, far away from everything. It was as though he was watching himself have a conversation, rather than taking part directly.

“And you? What will you do now?” Her voice was concerned, he noted absently.

“I will stay. There’s nothing else I can do, not after this.” His clarity sharpened as he considered the words. “I’ll continue Eldrid Tremaine’s work, and more than that, the work of the unnamed young lord who built this place. He intended this house to sit within a city; I’ll see his wishes come to life.”

Kaylene smiled. “Such work is going to take a lot of time. I don’t live so very far away; perhaps I’ll stop in to see you now and then. To make sure you’re keeping yourself fed properly.”

Altman abruptly noticed that his hand was inexplicably covering hers, and that she was still smiling. He smiled in return. “From time to time. That would be nice, yes.”

END

 

The Price of Independence - Day 25

Altman cried out; the pistol, still held in Deman’s grip, had gone off. Tremaine lay crumpled on the floor by the rear entrance, unmoving. He saw the blood drain from Kaylene’s face, her hand wrapped around Deman’s wrist where she’d tried to take the pistol from him.

Deman didn’t hesitate; with a savage growl he kicked up with his legs, tossing Kaylene behind him. He raised the pistol at Altman. With an inarticulate roar of his own, Altman tackled his friend, one hand wrapping around Deman’s burned throat, the other grabbing for the pistol.

The rolled on the floor, wrestling for the weapon, neither able to gain completely control. Deman was much stronger and fitter, but his burns were severe and hampered is mobility, which Altman took full advantage of.

Kaylene picked herself up off the ground unsteadily; she’d landed on her head after Deman threw her off. Whirling back to the conflict, she piled on, grabbing Deman’s arm and twisting. Between her and Altman, his strength was broken, and the struggle ended abruptly with one more, very final —BANG—.

Altman and Kaylene, faces pale, sat up and back. The pistol had discharged one last time, the projectile catching Deman low in the chest but angled up. His disfigured face stared blankly upward, wearing an expression of enraged surprise, but also of confusion.

It was some time before Altman could move. Kaylene rose and rushed to check on Tremaine; her tear-stained face told the young scientist everything he needed to know about his uncle’s condition.

She slowly walked over to him, placed a hand on his shoulder. “What … What was that?” Her voice was small. The whole encounter had lasted just minutes, and Deman had been too inarticulate to even say what had happened. His eyes moving over his dead friend’s face, Altman read the story in the burns.

“He must have returned to the deposit after overhearing my conversation with my uncle,” he said, voice flat, numb. “He must have been there for hours, in close contact with the electrite. These are radiation burns.”

He rolled up his friend’s sleeve. “Heaviest where the body was unprotected, though regular clothing would have offered almost no protection anyway.”

As he rolled the sleeve back down, a lump in Deman’s jacket pocket caught his attention. He pulled out a lump of electrite ore.

The Price of Independence - Day 24

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Tremaine had set the table for another spectacular meal. Altman couldn’t understand how the man did it with nobody to assist him. He was growing visibly weaker by the day and yet his vision was going, and yet he always had food available in quantity, well prepared in a timely manner.

He’d just sat down to eat with Kaylene and Tremaine; they had looked for Deman without success. “He’s probably out taking a walk to cool down,” Kaylene had opined.

“I’m sure you must be right. We’ll save him some food, if there’s any left,” Tremaine had agreed, and Altman gave it no further thought.

They’d just about finished dining and were working on a nicely aged brandy when a crash sounded from the front hall. “Who’s there?” Tremaine called out, his voice suddenly tremulous with fright; the sound of bestial breathing approached as uneven footsteps staggered their way.

Kaylene gasped and Altman bolted up out of his chair as Deman appeared in the doorway, hands on the door frame to keep himself steady, breathing labored and with an ugly, unhinged look in his eye.

He looked horrible; his skin was patched with ugly dark red splotches, like the worst sunburn Altman had ever seen had been allowed to grow worse still. Half of his face was so burned, with welts and large boils and blisters showing everywhere the dark burns appeared. His hands were so burned it was a wonder he could move his fingers. They showed the same boils and blisters that covered his face.

One eye was bloodshot and pink, and horribly discolored, the iris slightly misshapen and several shades lighter in color than it had been. The lid over it was swollen so that it looked like it shouldn’t be able to close properly.

But worse than the deformities was his expression. He stared at Altman, newly mismatched eyes intense with the light of madness. This didn’t look like his friend, he thought. This person barely looked human.

Altman backed away from the table towards the entrance to the kitchen. “Uncle, come with us please,” he said softly. Tremaine couldn’t see Deman, but could hear well enough and complied without a word. Kaylene began circling the table away from Deman and the kitchen alike.

Deman started forward as soon as Altman moved, stumbling dizzily and nearly falling as he crossed the space between the door frame and the nearest chair. He grasped it with one damaged hand, keeping his feet, keeping his eyes locked on Altman. “We … You …” he ground out between labored breaths.

“What happened to you, Dem?” Altman asked, still backing away. The look in the man’s eyes was terrifying. “We looked for you.”

“… led me there … left me there … if you … idiotic nonsense … your fault!” His voice rose to an inarticulate scream with the last, and he lurched toward Altman, hands like claws. Altman backed off into the doorway to the kitchen while Kaylene circled around behind the mad man.

Deman nearly fell with the effort of reaching his friend and snarled, an animal growl of rage and frustration. Altman’s mouth dropped open at the ferocity of it; Kaylene paused in her circling of the table, eyes wide. Altman ducked back into the kitchen quickly.

Deman fumbled clumsily at his belt, grabbing his pistol with his burned, awkward fingers. Kaylene rushed forward, but he lurched ahead of her, bursting into the kitchen and firing several shots with enthusiasm, if not accuracy.

Altman turned when the shots stopped sounding; he’d heard 3 loud cracks and then a solid thump and groan. Kaylene had Deman pinned to the floor and was trying to pry the pistol from his grip when a fourth, final —BANG— sounded.

The Price of Independence - Day 23

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Deman groaned and opened his eyes. His head felt like he’d landed on it in a rock pile. As his surroundings slowly came into focus, he realized that that was essentially what had happened. He’d returned to the electrite deposit to try to … to … he shook his head to clear his memory and spent the next several minutes trying not to throw up.

The light was dim and fading; he’d been here for hours, since the early afternoon, and the sun was now rapidly setting. Once his stomach settled, he very slowly drew himself to his feet.

He was sprawled at the bottom of the small ridge. He’d been at the top, working on extracting a chunk of the electrite ore when … the memory stubbornly refused to come, but he felt it was obvious what happened. He must have fallen and quite literally landed on his head. The pain was both colossal and dull.

He patted himself down as carefully as he could. To his relief, nothing seemed to be broken, though he had a curious tingling, burning sensation over large patches of his body. Sunburn, he thought. He’d been unconscious in the sun too long. But I’m fully dressed. That doesn’t make sense. The pain chased the troubling thought away before he could dwell on it too long.

He turned and stumbled in the direction of the house, but a wave of intense dizziness overcame him and he had to hold himself against the ridge to keep from falling once more.

This is Altman’s fault, an irrational part of his brain screamed at him. If he’d dismissed those lunatic notions of defying the Conclave, I might never have come back here!

The Price of Independence - Day 22

Altman frowned and felt something settle within him. That was it then. It was likely that this Pottle, a Conclave member, would be unable to share this technology even if he wanted to, even if he agreed with Tremaine. That just felt wrong, so very wrong. Altman wanted nothing to do with it.

“Uncle, I’ve decided. I’ll remain here. Your work is too important not to go on, and I can’t seal myself into the Conclave’s system of closed, hoarded knowledge.”

The old man nodded knowingly and smiled. There was still a light in his eyes, though his sight had been growing worse just in the few days they’d stayed with him. “I had a feeling about you that first night, nephew. I don’t spend a lot of time around people these days, but I was an excellent judge of character in earlier years. And …”

“Deman.” Altman nodded.

“I don’t mean to speak ill of your friend, Altman. He seems a nice enough lad. He’s also the Conclave’s creature through and through, if I’m any judge.” The old man’s voice was tired.

“You’re right. He overheard our conversation about the electrite. He knows of it, though not the full extent of what it’s capable of. He’s sure I’ll come around to his way of thinking in time.”

“You’ll have to be prepared. He could cause a lot of trouble for you if you don’t go along with him. He could bring the whole of the Conclave down on this place, and probably will.”

“I know. It’s a risk I have to take though, Uncle. There’s too much to discover, and too many opportunities, things that could be made better that will never happen otherwise.” Altman tapped the arm of the study’s chair idly, thinking.

The Price of Independence - Day 21

I was pretty busy this evening getting some behind-the-scenes stuff done on the website. This is why the Google+ box is suddenly appearing over there on the right hand side, among other things you probably won’t notice. Still, no excuses; I did some writing too, if not as much as I’d like.

He spent the rest of that day studying his uncle’s notes with Tremaine. He was astounded by what he read of electrite’s ability to entangle in the most remarkable manner with the most curious things. “I’ll show you something, nephew, something that so far I’m afraid the world won’t see much of for some time. It’s a communications box I invented.”

He pointed a shaky finger at a large box occupying a fair portion of a table’s surface. A curious upright device was attached to it by a cable. “You talk into it here,” he indicated the upright device. “Your voice goes down this wire into the box. Once in the box, I found a way to use the curious entanglement of the electrite to send your voice to another box. It doesn’t seem to have any practical distance limitations—it always sounds like you’re standing next to the person. It is my proudest achievement, m’boy.”

“That’s remarkable! But if you have such a thing, why would the world not see more of it?”

“It’s in the Conclave’s hands, Altman. They possess the only other such box in the world, unless they’ve finally managed to reproduce it themselves. You know how eager they are to share their knowledge.”

“But this isn’t their knowledge, it’s yours. Can’t you share it?”

The old man smiled. “Not in this particular case, I’m afraid. I owe partial credit to Dr. Pottle of their energies research department. Because we share credit for the invention, my hands are tied.”