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Lyaeus (closed)
He’d finally returned to Kallisti to shower and change his clothes. The hot water soothed his muscles, which seemed to have been aching for days now, but any relief he felt was utterly transient. His head still felt like cotton clouds. The dull ache in his chest was also unchanged, but he refused to dwell. Tears pricked his eyes every time he did, burning until everything blurred, but under the deluge of cascading water they never fell. Carmen had caught him on the way out of the club, hair curling gold about his ears, skin still damp under the shirt he dragged on. Something about a new girl and a message she’d received from Nox. But as soon as she saw the tight lines of his face she frowned and let him go. Usually Raffe would have soothed her concern, but today he just wanted out. Emotion swamped him the moment her fingers relaxed away from his tense arm, threatening to drown him. Even her expression was too much to weather. As he burst out the door he heard the muffled call of his name from behind. Raffe didn’t stop.

Kallisti and the girls would find out eventually.  But it didn’t have to be today. It didn’t have to be now.

His travels took him to an unfamiliar part of the city. Sweeping skyscrapers and grand, luxuriously fronted buildings towered like he’d stumbled into a city of the gods. Even the pavements were wider and cleaner. When Raffe reached his destination he paused, wondering if they’d throw him out before he’d fully passed the threshold. His jacket was shabby. An old wool scarf wound about the scar on his neck. He didn’t look anything like the few pedestrians passing on the street.

He ran his fingers over the edges of the appointment card Ekeziel had given him for a long while before he headed up the manicured walkways that led to the impressive glass-fronted building. It felt blindingly clean inside, all sinuous modern lines and highly polished white details. The company’s logo and slogan revolved everywhere like a glossy promise: PARAGON: Build a Better You. Raffe’s gut clenched for how out of place he felt. No wonder they called Ekeziel the Angel of the Undercity. How on earth did he have contacts like this?

There was a holobank offering tours of tech and services, but a living breathing person behind a pristine, chest-height desk. Raffe stuck his hands in his pockets, afraid to touch anything. On his way to the desk he passed an artificial hand sat in a glass case, sleek and futuristic. The plaque said something about Africa.

It only reminded him of Nox, and he blinked away, jaw hard.

The receptionist gave him an appraising but not entirely unkind look, like he might be lost. As soon as he gave his name, though, her demeanour changed. She smiled warmly. “Ah, Mr. Janssen, please come this way. Welcome to Paragon.”

[[I have updated the wiki to include some more info on the building, and will probably update further as the story progresses. Paragon's page can be found here]]
The receptionist led him up one of the open glass staircases flanking either side of the desk. Raffe’s eyes were wide; he couldn‘t help staring. Paragon’s cerulean blue logo against all the white practically burned on his retinas. He was not sure if it was sensors or fortuitous timing, but the large projections rolling continuously at the top of the mezzanine were suddenly accompanied by a soft woman’s voice, intoning the virtues of Paragon. He saw signs for a visitors hall among other things, but his guide led him further along the corridor, away from the neat bank of elevators connecting all the public floors of the building.

After a short walk she left him alone in a small waiting room with a medical screening to complete. The tinted floor to ceiling windows along one wall boasted an impressive view of the gardens below, and everything around him was clean and comfortable luxury. Raffe’s eyes wandered. The chairs were plush leather, but he sat awkwardly on the edge of the cushion. The receptionist had taken his coat, but he’d blind panicked when she tried to unburden him of the scarf too, stupidly afraid of what she’d make of the scarring. Like it wasn’t already evident in his mangled voice. The woman had blinked, surprised, but only smiled politely and offered him refreshments, to which he’d stammered for water. But now that it had arrived every sip so far had only made him feel sick.

The medical questionnaire was filled in quickly, uploaded the moment he ticked the completed box, and in the meantime he was left to bounce his knee and wait.

Time trickled by slowly, until he wondered if they’d forgotten him entirely. Maybe they’d realised he shouldn’t even be here. Raffe barely had enough money to cover his transport to the building, and he certainly couldn’t afford any of the flashy and expensive procedures or technology Paragon pioneered. He was pretty sure even the crystalline water he forced himself to sip on was out of his price range. Mired too long in his thoughts, and feeling uneasy still, he eventually retrieved the wallet from his pocket. Held it gingerly in both hands and stared at the dark screen. His heart beat hard and fast in his chest. The message left on it for him laid heavy on his mind, but even now he hesitated.

After another moment his eyes blinked up to the silent door. Then he ran a miserable hand over his face.

And finally listened:

Hey Raffe,

If you are listening to this message, it means things didn’t go well, and I had Sage send the message to you. This isn’t me trying to fix things or get back together, or even to make you feel bad for me. Hurting you is the last thing I ever wanted.

I thought I was a better man. I know I’m better than I was, and that’s thanks to you. And I just wanted to tell you that without trying to win you over or play the emotional card when your feelings are valid. But I can’t leave it however we left it.

You need to know that it wasn’t about being alone, or lonely, or even relief that it was all over, tho the latter is part of it. It’s the reason he kissed me. We were at the end of the journey. The horde was dead. I killed another friend, and the last vestige of my sister I had. I broke in that moment, but the fight wasn’t done.

In every attempt to save us, Jay pulled the cavern down on top of us, pulling me through the opening before the ceiling collapsed on top of the last monster in the tunnels. But the ceiling in the tunnel was collapsing too. I broke out of head and fixated all my power on saving us — saving the city. If it all fell in…

In the end, I collapsed on the ground. I thanked him for saving me, and he kissed me. I let it happen, but I held him at bay at least long enough to tell him I made a promise. He kissed me again and his hand wandered below the belt and the horde’s instincts took over. I was unprepared for the onslaught. I thought they were gone. They had died down while Nova’s death ravaged my mind and body. It’s not an excuse — just a fact. I own what I did. And I’ll suffer the consequences.

I am weak.

But I learned in that tunnel, I can’t say no to Jay. It’s not love. It’s not lust. It’s understanding. It’s not that you don’t understand. Or that I even want him to. That connection is something I can’t explain. But I never loved him. Sure, he’s hot as fuck, but you are so much more than the cute boy next door. Hot! Sweet! Caring! Just absolutely amazing.

And as long as Jay’s in my life, he’s always going to be a threat.

Before I told you what I did, I ended things in the most horrible way possible with him and I don’t regret it. Again, not a plea to win you back, just a truth. My truth.

He showed me who I was. But you gave me the strength to be myself.

I’m sorry I hurt you.

I am forever in your debt for the love you showed me.

There is nothing I can do to repay or repair what I broke, but know that if you need anything — anything at all — I am here.

As usual, I rambled on. I love you. I will always love you. Have a great life Raffe, you deserve it.

Raffe’s breath caught. He’d become aware as soon as he heard Nox’s voice that he’d picked a dumb to time to flay the feelings from his soul, but he couldn’t bring himself to stop the recording either. The chasm in his chest deepened, and loss flooded every space left behind. The wallet clattered to the floor by the time it was done, and silence rushed back to the small room. He jammed the heels of his hands into his sockets and willed himself not to feel.

But the words wound round and round in his head. He stood abruptly. Changed his mind and bent to scoop the device back up. It all felt final in a way that was hammering the breath in his lungs. He didn’t know what he wanted. Not this.

“Mr Janssen?” A different woman this time, in a smart business suit, with her dark hair swept into a neat chignon. She had an expensive looking screen in one hand, and a tray in the other. “For your belongings. Please switch everything off before it is deposited. Some of our instruments are quite delicate.” She smiled, and if her eyes roved his face a little, she did not seem perturbed by his raw eyes or flushed cheeks. Raffe felt dismal. But he obediently powered the wallet down and slipped it in the tray. She asked about other tech or implants on his person or in his body, to which he shook his head blandly. The wallet was the only thing he had. It wasn’t even his.

“Excellent. Well, then. Mr Haart is ready to see you now.”
He felt caught between two worlds. Nox’s words pierced him like needles. Yesterday already seemed like a lifetime ago, and the warm comfort of their relationship before that an entirely other existence, more a dream than a memory. Confusion burned against the pain, and he was somewhat aware he probably wasn’t even thinking straight. He was grieving for what was lost, yet to shift through the debris of what was left in order to decide if there was anything worth salvaging. The way the sound of Nox’s voice tugged at every string in his body told him the feelings had not cut themselves clean with the betrayal. That was no great surprise to him, but it churned anxiety with his decision. Part of him wanted to call. But it wouldn’t be fair. Probably not on either of them.

Raffe had ample time to think about it, for they took an elevator up to higher levels, and it felt like riding into the sky. The building was enormous, dizzyingly so. At some point he closed his eyes, flexing his jaw.

For now he ought to concentrate on why he was here. He had things to confront. Like the fact he was dying.


The office boasted a spectacular view of the Moscow skyline. Ephraim Haart was perched on the edge of a desk, scrolling through an array of screens that he promptly dismissed with a wave of his hand and a beatific smile. He was smartly dressed, as Raffe supposed he would be given their surroundings and his role in the company, but there was also something supremely unintimidating about his manner that eased the tension in Raffe's shoulders. His suit was an elegant grey, clearly tailored, but the jacket was slung over a chair, and his sleeves were rolled up above tan skin, one wrist flaunting an expensive watch into which the screens had dissipated.

“Ah, Mr Janssen. A pleasure. May I call you Rafael?” Ephraim's eyes crinkled at the edges when he smiled, like he did it often. He moved to welcome Raffe into his realm, thanking the secretary for her time and attention to his guest. Raffe noticed the pink blush to her cheeks as she left.

“Raffe is fine,” he said. Honestly, he had never heard 'Mr Janssen' so much in his entire life.

“In that case, take a seat, Raffe.”

They moved away from the formality of the desk to an arrangement of comfortable chairs by a large square coffee table. The view glittered outside the windows around them, like the world basked at Paragon's very feet. In fact everything felt like it had a strange shine, as if this really was another world. Ephraim sat with his arms spread along the back of the couch and his legs crossed, while Raffe perched opposite with less repose. The glow from behind lit up the other man's blonde curls like the aura of a god. There was certainly something magnetic about him.

They waded through the niceties until Raffe began to relax, and then Ephraim embarked on the preliminaries of the trial. He was an effusive and elegant speaker, free with his hands and expression. An adjustment at his wrist sprang accompanying images in mini screens around his head that he manoeuvred for Raffe's easy perusal. The effects of Sickness. The rates of death and survival. The work Paragon was doing to combat it. There was paperwork to go through too, accompanied by coffee delivered by the secretary with the dark hair. She smiled at Raffe before she left.

Later Raffe flitted through the screens of the contract. There were a lot of them. "Compensation?" he asked, indicating his current page by tilting the screen.

"Any trial is not without risk," Ephraim said amiably. "The packages Paragon offers in the event of unexpected outcomes are substantial. In fact you won't find better terms anywhere else. In this case it is little for you to worry about though. Mostly this will be about observation, and the nanotech is well researched in that regard. Still, I would be remiss not to point out the dangers to you."

Raffe only nodded. He stared at the blank space left for a beneficiary name and felt a yawning pit open up in his chest.

Ephraim sat forward then. Imploring.

"Usually we would offer a tour first, Raffe. Lunch. An opportunity to speak to the doctors involved and ask them any questions you might have. But your questionnaire suggested you may still be Sick. It would provide valuable data if we expedited those tests. Got the ball rolling so to speak.

"There is no rush, of course. You can take as long as you need to decide."

Raffe entered Nox's name in the box. He had no one else. Oriena didn't need the money, and Carmen had the club. The girls were all looked after by Kallisti. Afterwards he skipped all the way to the signature and signed. He placed the screen and stylus back on the table, and pushed it gently towards Ephraim. He just wanted this done.
Ephraim smiled.

Raffe asked if someone would be able to inform Carmen how long the trial meant he’d be away from work, and then he submitted to whatever they wanted from him. The tests weren’t invasive, or not more so than a normal check-up. Sat on the bed of a small consultation room, he drifted back to childhood at the orphanage, half expecting one of the doctors to jam open his mouth to count his teeth. He didn’t ask what they were doing, though they chattered amiably both to each other and to him the entire time. Enduring the blood draw wasn’t pleasant but it only lasted a moment. He watched the vials fill up idly. It was worse when they asked about the scars on his neck and the scratch of his whispery voice, but he only mumbled about how it had been an accident. They shrugged the explanation away, and spoke amongst themselves about the possibilities of reconstructive surgery like he wasn’t there.

True to Ephraim’s word, they did offer him lunch afterwards. The food was fancy and Raffe only picked at it, thinking about Nox’s voicemail and what he did or did not intend to do about it. Not that he had the means to do anything at all right now; they still had the wallet in their lockup. Once he’d finished eating an aide offered to show him around the visitor’s centre, and he followed the man numbly amongst exhibits and screens and glass cases full of tech. At the tour’s conclusion Raffe agreed to watch a presentation on the History and Future of Paragon in a small theatre room just for a moment to sit in the cool dark, alone, and not have to bite back the melancholy of his mood. Afterwards he wiped his face, stepped back into the bright and airy foyer, and thanked the aid for his time.

They returned his things, as well as a single-use screen containing a copy of his contract, a schedule of when he should return, and a veritable stack of other information regarding the tests he had agreed to, the aims of the trial, the length of the study, and a contact for Paragon’s medical team should he feel the need.

Then they let him go.

It was early evening when he stumbled back down the steps into the manicured grounds that surrounded the immense building and sheltered it from the reality of the world beyond. For a while he wandered the green walkways, until he found a bench to sit on. Leaves from the cradling bushes stirred against his shoulders, and he sighed for the first moment of almost-calm he had experienced the entire day. Paragon’s screen lay abandoned beside him; he hadn’t even looked at it, nor was he sure he would. Instead he held Nox’s wallet on his lap. He could barely hear the surrounding traffic noises from here, though the building was in the very heart of the city. Green spaces were sparse in the darkest parts of Moscow. Raffe felt the ease of it slip into his bones. Felt his head begin to clear for the first time in days.

He stared at the darkened screen a while, but didn’t switch it on this time. Time and space and both desperately needed, but he wasn’t sure he could trust himself for either.

Raffe closed his eyes and sighed.

The secretary looked at him in surprise when he returned so soon, though she smiled too. People usually did when Raffe was around.

“Mr Janssen,” she said pleasantly. “Did you forget something?”

“Sorry,” he said. “I was wondering, though. Do you have somewhere I could stay? For the duration of the trial, I mean. If I didn’t want to go home?”
The room was bigger and better furnished than his one at Kallisti, though there were no windows in it – aside from the darkened observation glass that led out onto the corridor anyway, which was currently covered with a curtain for his privacy. He imagined there had to be a camera in here too, though he didn’t see any evidence on the slick white ceiling. It didn’t matter to him either way. Stretched out on the bed, and comfortable enough, he stared at nothing and willed himself to sleep.

He wasn’t sure what woke him. No noise, anyway, for it was deathly quiet when he opened his eyes, and very dark. For a moment the medicinal aroma distinctive to hospitals unnerved him, and his heart began to race, utterly spooked, before he recalled where he was.

Though he really did startle when he realised there was someone on the end of the bed.

As his gaze adjusted to the heavy shadows he caught the shape of a floating head, then the eerily faint gleam of large eyes. The mattress squeaked as if someone shifted. Raffe shuffled backwards, alarmed.

“Shh!” she commanded sharply. He thought it was a she. A moment later the light from a wallet-like device blossomed under her face. He noticed enormous eyes first, hypnotically dark and widely spaced. She seemed to sway slightly in the shadows, and the hair wisping around her pale face looked white as bone. The rest of her was hard to make out, like not another bit of skin was left uncovered. No wonder she’d looked so ghoulish. Even her hands had gloves.

Raffe squinted as she turned the beam of light on him, bracing his hand against his face as the flare burned his eyes. But his heart eased when he realised it was just a girl, no matter how strange a manner of one, or how ghostly her appearance was in the middle of the night. Years of sofa-surfing, communal living, and occasional bouts of life in the Undercity had inured him to the expectation of peaceful sleep. Or at least he recovered quickly when it seemed a harmless interruption.

“Oh,” she said happily. “You’re a pretty one. I heard the doctors call you Raffe. I’m Visha.”

He mumbled some response, to which she only clapped her hands together and laughed. The light spiralled in shadows as the wallet clamped between her covered hands. When her lips peeled back he’d half expected fangs, but she seemed perfectly ordinary.

“I didn’t mean to wake you. Sorry about that. It’s exciting though, right? But I had better go.”

He felt her weight release from the mattress. He didn’t hear her footsteps leave. Soon after, he fell back asleep.


Raffe’s morning began with more tests and observations while he was still plaintively yawning. Paragon couldn’t begin until they were sure the Sickness had burned its way out of his body and he was entirely clear of it, which meant his presence now was mostly surplus. Though certainly he was beginning to feel better, if utterly bone-tired – emotionally and physically both. While the doctor checked his vitals, he finally thought to ask a few more questions. And actually listen to the answers this time. They seemed happy to talk. Apparently he’d signed quite an extensive non disclosure agreement as part of the contract.

An intentional touch of the power cured the disease; that was known colloquially from testimony, but it had never been quantified in public research. The how was a mystery as much as the way some people were able to force themselves through the process, and others died spectacularly horrible deaths instead. From what he understood, it seemed Paragon had valuable data gathered from someone while the leap from Sick to Not Sick was actually completed successfully. From that closely guarded evidence they were looking for ways to facilitate the connection artificially. In doing so they would not only cure it, but potentially pave the way for testing before the patient ever got sick at all.

Probably that was all in the packet of information he had been given and failed to read.

No one mentioned the girl in his room last night. In the clinical and efficient light of day, he wondered if he’d just dreamt it.

“This stuff you’re going to put in me, you’re hoping it cures the Sickness. Or stops it happening in me again, anyway. Does that mean I’ll have to touch the power after?” he asked finally.

“The serum should provide the first connection. It doesn’t teach you how to use it though. I would hypothesise yes, it’ll mean you can, same as anyone else who went through the process the natural way and survived. But it’s one of the things we’ll be studying.”

He nodded thoughtfully at that.

Until the trial began officially, they said he wasn’t confined to the facility. They’d given him a basic screen to pass the time, but there was no internet connection down here – or not one he had access to. Relief warred with the temptation to leave while he still could, but in the end sheer exhaustion won the battle. He’d slept hard after the first time he was Sick. This time he slept harder.

Visha came again that night, he was pretty sure. Else he dreamt of her curious eyes watching him in the dark.


They’d given him the all clear.

A doctor talked him through the process. The vial didn’t look like anything, though the puncture hurt. Raffe watched with detached fascination, but it felt like nothing really. The nanites in the serum would take time to learn his body and begin to enact the necessary changes. Raffe was hooked up to machines permanently now, though the technology was so advanced the monitors attached to his skin were barely noticeable, and he soon grew used to the various beeps and chimes of their feedback to various screens inside and outside the observation room. He had a button to call for one of the doctors if he felt he needed it. They told him to press it if he felt any awareness of the power encroaching on his senses too. Since both previous times had been a whirlwind of anxiety and fear, Raffe was not entirely sure what markers he might be looking for.

In the meanwhile he propped himself on an elbow and watched movies on the screen they’d given him. For a while he dozed too. Tried hard not to think.


He hadn't heard her come in. Visha stood in the empty doorway this time, peeking slyly back over her shoulder before she came all the way in. The apples of her cheeks plumped into what he considered an entirely devious smile, and she made a scooting motion for him to shift his legs enough to make room for her to sit with him. In the light of day (well, the artificial light of day at least) her eyes were dark enough to look black, and her blonde hair was almost silvery, hanging close to her skull like fine-spun spider silk.

“I was starting to think I imagined you,” Raffe said in genuine surprise.

She looked pleased by that for some reason, or maybe it was just that she seemed naturally buoyant in nature. She was bedecked in blues and greys today, with lace and pearl details that seemed more fit for a fashion runway than a medical facility. Ruffles collared her slender neck. She was still wearing gloves. He realised she didn’t look like a doctor or another patient, which begged an obvious question he wasn’t sure how to ask.

“I want to know everything,” she declared. The intensity of her gaze was a little unnerving, but she was as friendly and earnest as a child. That was another thing he noticed now he saw her properly though. She was definitely not a child. After a moment she smiled at him, pressed the tip of her tongue to the edge of an incisor, and clarified with a laugh, “where are you from, what do you do? You look like a model. Apart from the scar. They could fix that here, you know. You would look much better without it.”

He touched the injury on reflex, rubbing at the numb skin, and felt his face flush with a little scrutinised shame. It naturally pushed his thoughts towards Nox. Visha was odd, but he didn’t conclude any judgement from the observation, and he doubted she meant the unintentional hurt. So he powered the screen down and indulged her apparent curiosity, not that he considered himself a particularly riveting subject. The distraction was welcome anyway. He sanitised the tale of his childhood when she pressed insistently for details, apparently marvelling at the idea of his being an orphan, but mostly they spoke of his work. The various flashy bars and clubs, and his home at Kallisti. Her eyes grew round with interest. When he realised it was the glitz and glamour that fascinated her he wove the tales into fun and fancy. It passed the time, until his voice grew hoarse enough to hurt.

At some point he noticed one of the doctors pass outside the long observation window, nose buried in a screen, only to more or less freeze in the doorway before turning around and heading back the way she came, expression pinched into a resigned grimace. Visha appeared to notice too by the prim way she glanced over her shoulder, but she only shrugged one of her shoulders by way of answer. A delicate sigh puffed out from her lips. She very deliberately checked her posture, tucked herself in close, and pressed her hands between her thighs.

Visha, darling. You know you should not be in here.”

The voice to boom the interruption belonged to Ephraim Haart himself. Raffe had not seen him since their initial meeting, however many days ago that had been now; everything had begun blurring a little already. Today he was dressed in deep navy, curls perfect, face stern and patient as a concerned father.

“I haven’t touched him, Ephraim. Have I Raffe? Tell him, please.”

Raffe only blinked, a little confused by the question. Visha’s gaze was pointed, edged with demand, but when she turned back to Ephraim contrition melted the pertinacity. She stood in a way that seemed entirely boneless.

“You’ll skew the data. Come on now.” Ephraim held out a gentlemanly hand for her assured exit. As she obediently passed him he pressed that hand into the small of her back.

He was wearing gloves.
If Visha turned up that night Raffe was unaware. She might have sat at the end of his bed and watched him all night for all he knew; he slept hard and exhausted.


He felt strange the next day; like the power was hovering at the edges of his senses, threatening to swallow him whole. For a while the doctors buzzed at the change, but when the various tests elicited pain rather than a state fit for funnelling the power into his control, as was the aim, they paused for recalculation. Raffe was left alone with a vague and impending sense of doom, not unlike the feeling of another man channeling this strange power. It came and went. That afternoon Visha snuck her way into his room, and he was glad to find distraction in her company. Truthfully his head felt a little woozy. It was nice to have something to focus on.

She sat cross-legged at the end of his bed, every inch of skin carefully covered apart from her face. Her smile was bright and mischievous, sly as a cat, and she chattered something about a prince charming and an owl at a pace that made Raffe dizzy. He grinned at her enthusiasm, glad to rest in the surf of someone else’s happiness. Visha was talking about some eshow she had seen on her screen, he assumed; she often talked about that stuff like it was real to her. So he listened quietly, until he finally felt himself begin to doze – another side-effect of the serum in his system doing its work, or so he was told. They’d come for her soon. They always did. Though neither did they seem to be able to stop her visits.

By now Raffe had stopped wondering who on earth she even was.

He woke because of the screaming, utterly disorientated, body tense. For a moment his mind flashed back to being a kid. But it was Visha pleading “no no no no” and the other bodies in the room were all suited in full hazmat. From somewhere Ephraim’s voice echoed, calm as the voice of god.

“Visha, my love. Fifteen people. Let the doctors do what they need to.”

Fear pumped his chest. Confusion. The power roared in, unsure of what he was witnessing in the chaos – half unsure of where or when he even was. The flash of Visha’s pale hair. A feral snarl. Something sizzled. There was alarmed yelling.

Threads burst out of him. In panic, he didn’t even know what he intended beyond a desperate desire to help her. But they frayed away just as quickly, the moment they got close to her.

Then pain made a starburst of his skull, and Raffe passed out.

The next time he woke was to a soft patter of beeping. His eyes fluttered. The lights on the ceiling stung. He wanted to close them again.

“Ah, there you are.”

The face of one of the doctors swam into view, and Raffe forced himself into a stiff smile. She didn’t stop him hoisting himself up on his elbows, and when he glanced down he saw the monitoring equipment was nothing but the usual. A headache pressed behind his eyes, but beyond that he only felt tired. Memories kaleidoscoped. Rubbing a hand over his curls, he did not try too hard to sort through them. It seemed to him he was unlikely to find anything he’d like.

“What happened?” he asked instead.

“Well, you used the power, but it was uncontrolled. Not ideal of course, and unlikely to be first contact. But we won’t know until…”



She gave him a kindly smile as she tapped a few commands into the equipment, and did not seem perturbed, which he assumed he should find reassuring. He slumped back into the pillows.

“Did I ruin the experiment?”

“Let’s just see what happens, shall we?”

Raffe nodded; had no intention of persisting with questions he was not sure he wanted an answer to. His gaze moved beyond her white coat, to search the room beyond, but nothing remained of the altercation. He could almost believe he’d dreamed the whole thing, but knew he hadn’t. Raffe reached to touch the doctor’s arm, frowned.

“Is Visha okay?”

But at that the doctor only smiled again, pat his hand, and left.
Days passed uneventfully. He caught snatches of excited conversation from time to time, but whatever caused the furore wasn’t centred around his own tests. Those continued on schedule, also uneventfully. Visha did not return, nor did anyone seem inclined to share with him what had happened to her. Alone, Raffe felt his thoughts begin to spiral again. He wondered what Nox was doing. Whether he’d left Kallisti entirely and not just long enough to give Raffe the space he’d asked for. The voice-message had had the tones of a goodbye. Either way he was fairly sure Nox would be punishing himself for what had happened. Raffe didn’t feel glad about that; he knew too much about the other man’s past to feel any true vindication, even if he’d been hurt in the process. But he also knew there was nothing he could have done about it. Not without sending mixed messages. He didn’t know what he wanted.

When he replayed things now he only felt numb, and he couldn’t tell if it meant the pain had gone or if he’d simply come to terms with how it had imploded everything. He’d spent his life without roots. Connections came and went, and Raffe accepted what befell him eventually. He didn’t even know why he’d expected fidelity, but clearly he had. That dream had gone, he realised. And it had been a dream.


This time he woke up because he was hot. A swipe against his face found it slick. Raffe’s pulse was burning in his ears, and his chest felt crumbly, caving in with every exhale. It was hard to lift again with a new breath, and it roused him in panic. When his sticky eyes opened, he realised it wasn’t night at all, and he shied from the blurring pain of lights overhead. The soft beeps of the machines were familiar. People milled around the bed. Something pinched a vein, and then he floated back down. It was nicer there.

Later he came round, exhausted, but a little cooler. He should have been alarmed to recognise Ephraim Haart himself at his bedside, but the realisation only fell like a stone beneath the waves. He understood then that he was Sick. Understood too what it meant, this time. Peace sank him heavy when he felt Ephraim’s kindly gaze, and the soft words: “I’m sorry, Raffe.”

He’d never wanted this power. Not once. It didn’t seem fair, yet he didn’t regret acting to help Visha. He didn’t ask, but he knew that was why. He’d channeled before the tech had the chance to do its job fully. And now he was going to die for it.

Half a smile twitched, about as much as Raffe could muster. He would have shrugged if he could, but honestly his bones felt like liquid. There was a line in his arm, deadening the pain at least. Most who went this way died screaming. His eyes fluttered shut.

“...can make you comfortable if you wish,” Ephraim was saying. His voice was low, comforting. “ thing we can offer… experimental…”

Somewhere distant Raffe was aware of other voices. Time had passed again. They were arguing about consent and science and the future. He recoiled weakly from the hands on his body soon after, confused as it wrenched him the fragile peace of drifting somewhere too deep to rouse. He just wanted to sleep. But whatever dulled the pain of fever now receded. His veins flooded with fire, and he began to scream.


The world bloomed dull. He’d been here too long to remember the sun. When consciousness returned, Raffe was reluctant to acknowledge it, curled on his side, face buried. Memories bloodsoaked and dark with what he could only guess were fever dreams cooled in the back of his mind, discarded. He focused only on breathing. Ignored the nurses who came to attend to him. He didn’t feel ill. He didn’t feel anything at all.
Raffe stared out the window as Ephraim spoke. The city spread out below; the same office view as only a week before, but it felt like a lifetime had passed since he’d signed his life over and begged Paragon for a place to stay. He’d felt out of place then; small, scruffy, inferior. None of that had changed, but it no longer mattered the same way.

There were more NDAs to sign; he neither knew or asked why, just scribbled his signature wherever Ephraim pointed. Assurances followed of confidentiality when the paper inevitably gained traction. They’d need to monitor a time longer, but Raffe didn’t need to stay for that, and all the markers were good.

Paragon had discovered a cure for the Sickness.

It should have been momentous, but all Raffe felt was a sense of being outside his body. Everything seemed surreal, like someone had taken him apart and pieced it back together wrong. So he simpy weathered the meeting until Ephraim finally stood and offered out a hand.

Some time later he trailed out the building, vaguely aware of the receptionist calling his name, but he didn’t stop. Nothing hurried his steps. It wasn’t an escape. His hands slunk deep in his pockets, eyes on the pavement, and he disappeared into the busy city crowds.
[[Visha continues here]]
[Image: visha-echidna.jpg]
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