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Dialogue Number 1
A Reasonably Outrageous Offer

14 January, 2004

Part the 1st
Lee's body slammed into the Fight Pit's wall hard enough to crack it slightly, the massive fist of one of her three 'jobber' opponents gripping her delicate throat like a vice. An instant later she just barely managed to twist her head sharply to one side just as the jobber's other fist launched itself at her face. Instead, it struck the wall behind Lee with enough force to punch an impressive hole into it. In reaction to this the crowds above cheered wildly, while the jobber howled in pain and lost his grip on Lee's throat.

Lee grabbed the opportunity and danced lightly to one side as the grotesquely over-muscled behemoth before her cradled his injured hand and tried not to cry. She'd never admit it, but Lee almost felt bad for these poor saps.

The drug was so new, they hadn't even invented a name for it yet - at least not a non-scientific one that normal people (like her) could pronounce. The drug's advantages were that the marks in the stands (the audience) didn't even know it existed, and it really did work. Any baseline who took it regularly, and for long enough, developed honest-to-god super-strength! The disadvantages were that the jobbers who took it were still baselines, specifically, they were still as fragile as baselines. So when Jobber #1 slammed his fist into a reinforced concrete wall hard enough to create a four inch deep hole just now, he probably pulverized all of the bones in his fist right along with the concrete.

The drug, of course, was Mite, though it would be several more months before the name would catch on with the general public.

Lee ducked in close and did the poor schlub a favor, giving him a one-two count to the face with fists made of steel so aged and weathered, her victim might be more worried about tetanus at this point than the bones in his hand. It was like being smacked in the head by dull, rusty, fifty-pound nails over and over again. Needless to say, Jobber #1 went down immediately, and without further complaint.

Ok, maybe that was an exaggeration; Lee's arms weren't rusty in the strictest, technical terms. Hell, they weren't even made out of steel, even if that's what they looked like they were made out of. Whatever it was, it was much, much harder than any steel ever forged by man. The point was that her arms were pitted, and weathered, and looked like pieces of industrial machinery that had been put to heavy and regular use for a long, long time now. Shiny, they were not.

Lee had no time to enjoy her victory over Jobber #1, because Jobbers #2 and #3 were still up and moving, and they were just as big, ugly, smelly, and potentially dangerous (to themselves, as well as to her) as Jobber #1 had been. And sure enough, she heard Jobber #3's bellow of rage as he came up behind her. She brought up one dingy, steely arm and blocked his attempted hook with ease. As with #1, the jobber cried out in pain and shook his hand and arm where it had struck her own. Flesh against metal; for the audience, it was a great show, but for the fighters (the mitoids and the nova), it was a joke and they all knew it. But hey, they were getting paid after this was over, so who cared, right?

Jobber #2 recovered his composure and then he and #3 rushed Lee simultaneously. For the watching crowds, it was an exhilarating experience as the gorgeous and dangerous 'Machine Girl' dodged and weaved, staying just out of reach of her monstrous opponents' murderous attacks. For Lee, it was a tedious and difficult chore of trying not to kill her two vastly inferior opponents or knock them out too soon. A good shootfight should last several minutes. If it was over too quickly, people got restless and complained that they weren't getting their money's worth. And if the crowds didn't get their money's worth, then Lee didn't get her money, and that wouldn't do at all.

Lee counted the seconds, attempted to calculate the amount of hard liquor she would need to get shitfaced after the fight, and tried not to get herself killed by any lucky punches. After all she'd survived in her life, being killed in a staged, underground shootfight at the hands of a drugged-out super-thug would just be embarrassing.
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Part the 2nd

The crowds were still hooting and hollering and cheering when Lee came out of the changing rooms and found Yai Lokampang waiting for her, but they were no longer cheering for her 'victory', they had already moved on from that and were raptly enjoying yet another illegal bloodbath being staged entirely for their benefit. Lokampang was smirking as he offered her a sarcastic golf-clap and a little bow of the head.

"Hail the conquering hero!", he said, "And such a beautiful hero she is, too."

Lee sighed, and started to brush past the Thai shootfight promoter. "Flattery, Yai, does not suit you."

Actually, what she said was, "Flettery, Yai, duz noht sootch yoo". Despite having spoken the English language for... well, for longer than most native speakers, Lee could never quite manage to get rid of a thick accent that had started its long life sounding vaguely Russian. Nowadays, it could simply be described as sounding like it had come from somewhere deep in the Old World. Yai's English was much better.

Lokampang chuckled humorlessly, and countered, "I'm only offering you congratulations for doing such a fine job of following your script, Li" (Yai Lokampang said her name with a pronunciation that made it clear he understood it to be a Mandarin word, not an American nickname).

"Ha!" Lee's laughter was louder than Yai's, but just as humorless. "You would know all about that, wouldn't you?" (Again, this sounded more like, "Yoo wuhd nuh ohl aebowt thit, wuddint yoo?", but we'll just pretend she can speak it normally for now, ok?)

She turned around to face him and smiled brilliantly, though it didn't quite reach her eyes. "You don't actually expect me to believe", she asked in mock-sweetness, "that bloody gorilla you put in the ring with your little American killer, Freeman, was actually a nova, do you? You're not fooling anyone, you pompous fool! Everyone knows you stage more fights than those American trailer park rejects in the WWF."

"You know, it's funny you should mention that", muttered Lokampang, rubbing at his chin and looking almost self-conscious (and studiously ignoring her insulting tone).

"Mention what?", asked Lee, giving the smaller Thai man a suspicious look, but not turning to leave quite yet. Even she didn't know why.

"The World Wrestling Federation. You know they're looking for novas, now? The majority shareholder himself has been in contact with me, Lee. He wants me find fighters for him. He wants only the best, and I told him, Lee, I told him you-"

"Yai, you bastard! I don't want to hear another word about this! The answer is 'NO'!" Lee turned to leave, adding over her shoulder, "now, piss off!" But Yai, in an act of stunning bravery (or foolhardiness), reached out and halted her with a hand on her metallic shoulder.

"Hold it just one damn minute, Lee! You haven't even heard what they're offering, yet!"

"And I don't need to. I told you once already, Yai, and I'm telling you again now, that I am Not. Interested."

Yai looked at her exasperatedly and asked, "But why, Lee? Can't you see this is the way of the future? Shootfighting is a dying sport, girl! I'm only trying to help you, can't you see that?"

Lee's eyes narrowed, and she glared at Yai. "Help me?", she asked, "You've never helped anyone but yourself, you miserable rodent of a man. No one benefits from your scheming, unless you benefit first. And more." She jerked her shoulder free of his weak grip and gave Lokampang a contemptuous look.

Yai's face twisted in anger and he shouted at her, "You lousy, washed up, alcoholic bitch! I knew this was a waste of time! I offer you wealth, fame, whatever you want - and you insult me in return!" He stepped away from her, and then started to walk out of the room, muttering "a waste of time!", as he went.

He stopped at the door that led back out to the fight pit, and the cheering crowds, and turned around. With an angry, spiteful light in his eyes, Yai pointed his finger at Lee and growled, "Six months from now, you're going to be sitting in some worthless bar somewhere, piss drunk and utterly useless, and you're going to realize you could have had it all. You could have been great, but you threw it all away!"

Lee met his gaze with a wry grin on her face, and promised, "Well, I'll be sure to drink a toast in your honor when that day comes, Yai. Now, fuck off!"

And he did.

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30 September, 2004

Part the 3rd

Yai's prophecy was over three months late in coming true, which technically made it a false prophecy, but it's not like he was under review by a rabbinical councel or anything, so whatever.

In any case, nine months later, Lee found herself seated at a bar in the Swaggering Rooster (which really was a piece-of-shit bar) nursing her thirteenth bottle of Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock. She was watching the inaugural match of the 'XWF', Extreme Warfare Federation on the crappy wall-mounted TV set behind the bar, and as it happened, she could probably have been described fairly as 'piss drunk' or even 'utterly useless' by that point.

As she watched "Duke 'Core' Baron" (AKA Louis Freeman) turn himself into a household name, literally before her eyes, Lee was not regretting her decision to turn down a career in the XWF, as Yai had predicted. Instead, she was reflecting on why she had turned down Yai Lokampang in the first place. Which meant that she was reflecting on a time seven years ago, in the month of July.

At midnight on the 1st of July, 1997, the United Kingdom officially transferred control of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China. At the time, it was thought that the Triads would flee Hong Kong (their base of operations since the early part of the 20th Century) like rats fleeing a sinking ship, as the city fell under the much more oppressive Chinese regime. Instead, authorities from around the world were shocked to learn that virtually everything they'd thought they knew about the Triads had been a lie. A hoax, perpetrated on the entire planet. A mask of such perfection, it's architect would have to be a Mastermind of nearly unprecedented ability.

But there was a precedent for such ability, set by a man who had consolidated control of the entire Chinese underworld some two decades before World War II. In Chinese urban legends he was still remembered as the Pubianlong; the dragon who was everywhere, from whom nothing was hidden, and nothing was safe. Lee had believed him dead since 1941.

Back in the summer of '97, Lee was still involved (unofficially, in an 'advisory' capacity) with the agencies trying to bring down the Triads. She had tried to convince them of the truth (as she saw it), but none of them would believe her. Time and again she found hints and clues, and even hard evidence pointing to the Dragon's hand in the Triads' vanishing act, but in every case the evidence slipped through her fingers, and the hints only implied, and never proved. In the end she'd managed only to anger the Chinese and alienate those she was working with. She was a 'loose canon', and her methods were deemed 'outdated' and 'old fashioned'. Her drinking problems (which were only just becoming noticeable) were mentioned more than once as well. Shortly thereafter, she was politely asked to leave Hong Kong (and the investigations), and shortly after that she'd been officially disavowed and cut off.

The Galatea had exploded mere months later, and then everything had changed - for her, and the rest of the world. By that point, Lee had already disappeared into the slums of the Pacific Rim, doing her damnedest to drink herself into oblivion (a task that only seemed to get harder and harder as time went by). Her failures in Hong Kong were hardly enough to drive her to such depths of depression all by themselves, but they did constitute more than just a few of the straws that finally broke her proverbial camel's back.

Life lost its purpose for Lee in those days. The Dragon, it seemed, was alive. So was the Doctor. But Rudwick was long dead, and with him, all the rest of those good and brave souls who, by simply calling her their friend and equal, had honored her far more than she had ever deserved. Where was the justice in that? What had she or they done wrong in the Golden Age she called her youth, that they should all lay dead while their enemies thrived?

A time had been when she had felt newborn and clean, when all the world had lain stretched out before them, ready to be reforged from the dying husk of the old world into the best of all possible futures. In those days, the days of her youth, she fought with a mad baron atop a floating palace. She sailed upon the seas of mercury that shimmered under a million stars all made of jewels, under the thousand-foot White Pyramid, where Qin Shi Huang sleeps his long sleep. In the unmitigated blackness a mile below the Earth's surface she made love to an alabaster-skinned giant, the champion of a lost race of men. And she marveled at the miraculous inventions of modern-day Prometheii as they remade the Laws of Nature for the betterment of all.

And what had come of it all, other than fanciful stories and half-remembered dreams that were ridiculed, rather than admired by the men who had come after? All of Lee's heroes were dead, having vanquished no Evil that she could name, while she herself had done nothing more than survive. Darwin claimed that Evolution was defined by the 'survival of the fittest', but there is no definition for a creature's 'fitness', other than that it survives. In essence, Darwin's Grand Theory, boiled down to its essence, stated that we are all the result of history's leftovers, the ultimate expression of meaningless destruction and capricious violence.

Lee believed that with all her heart.

And that, she reflected, while taking another swig of her Eisbock, was why she had turned down Yai Lokampang's offer of riches and fame. If she was going to debauch herself with pointless violence, and drown herself in smooth, alcoholic poison, then dammit, she was going to do it right! Money was a pretension of baseless certainty, and fame was a torridness that parched but gave no warmth. Better, then, to rub shoulders with all those unpurposed wretches who merely survived and nothing more, because if Darwin was right, they were the true heirs of mankind's blank future.

Also, Yai worked for the Triads. Fuck the triads.

Lee swallowed the last of her Eisbock and set it down on the counter, empty. Time for another. She slapped the bar and hollered at the man behind the counter. "Bartender, bring me another!"

End Dialogue Number 1

"My own pseudo-conclusion:

That we've been damned by giants sound asleep, or by great scientific principles and abstractions that cannot realize themselves: that little harlots have visited their caprices upon us; that clowns, with buckets of water from which they pretend to cast thousands of good-sized fishes have anathemized us for laughing disrespectfully, because, as with all clowns, underlying buffoonery is the desire to be taken seriously; that pale ignorances, presiding over microscopes by which they cannot distinguish flesh from nostoc or fishes' spawn, have visited upon us their wan solemnities. We've been damned by corpses and skeletons and mummies, which twitch and totter with pseudo-life derived from conveniences."

- Charles Fort
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Dialogue Number 2
A Stab and a Laugh

05 September, 2006

Part the 1st
The Swaggering Rooster was the sort of place that criminals, lowlifes, and people who wanted to be forgotten (and to forget) loved to lose themselves in. It was dirty, smoky, poorly lit, and was possessed of a timelessly deplorable character that made it easy to believe that it had been every bit as aweful thirty years ago as it was now. It was also Lee's home away from home (due mostly to the fact that her 'home' was a tiny, one bedroom apartment down the street that she shared with several hundred cockroaches comprised of at least five different species, compared to which, the Rooster looked like a palace).

Lee was currently slouched in a chair at a corner table, passed out drunk. One cybernetic hand still instinctively held onto a bottle of Aventinus precariously balanced on the edge of the table and her other hand dangled limply in her lap. Her head was lolling to one side like a dead person's, and an impressive string of drool hung down from the corner of her open mouth and was slowly collecting on her shoulder as a thick puddle. All in all, Lee looked every inch the disgusting alcoholic at the moment, and even her superhuman beauty couldn't do much to fix that.

Some evil bastard kicked Lee's chair, and she nearly jumped out of her skin in response, jerking upright and trying desperately to remember where - and who - she was. After a moment of slurring drunken incoherencies, she regained her composure and looked up to see a perfectly nondescript man with reddish hair looking back. They stared at each other for a long moment, she with a string of drool still glistening on her chin and a bleary-eyed look on her face, he with a slight smile on his lips and a knowing look in his eyes.

"Stab me!", Lee suddenly exclaimed, in a shocked and breathless voice. She both looked and sounded like she expected to die at any moment.

"No thank you", answered the nondescript man with sublime, easy confidence. "Do you mind if I sit?", he asked.

Lee just shook her head stiffly in response. The man sat down gracefully, his eyes never once leaving hers.

Feeling something wet on her shoulder, Lee looked down and saw the puddle of drool there, and noticed the trail of wetness running down her chin at the same time. "Eehh...", she murmured, grabbing the bottom of her tank top and pulling it up to wipe at her chin and shoulder. This in turn exposed all of her stomach and a good portion of the simple black bra she wore under the top. She seemed more concerned about the drool than the amount of flesh she was exposing.

As she wiped at the mess on her chin and shoulder, Lee glanced back up at the red-haired man, looking slightly put off and embarrassed that he was seeing her like this. She was surprised to see that he was grinning at her in a genuinely open and friendly manner and looking like he was trying to hold back a laugh. In that moment the years suddenly seemed to drop away from them both like scales from St. Paul's eyes, and Lee was suddenly taken back to a time when she was young and innocent and beautiful beyond the scope of mortals, and the Devil seated across from her had been even younger still and no devil at all, but someone she counted a very dear friend.

She couldn't help it; first she grinned and then she laughed, and the perfectly (even strangely) nondescript man across from her, losing the battle with his own grin, laughed along with her. It was the sort of laugh only shared by people who have known each other for a long time, which was appropriate, since the two novas seated at a dingy table in a dingy bar in a bad neighborhood in downtown Bangkok had probably known each other for longer than any two people currently alive had ever known anyone.

Slowly the laughter died away, and a kind of melancholy seriousness seemed to take its place, waxing as the mirth waned. Lee's laughter faded away to soft chuckling, which turned into a need to clear her scratchy throat, which itself rather quickly turned into the kind of hacking, frightening cough that only the Professionally Alcoholic can produce. The nondescript man with the reddish hair winced at this, the confidence and mirth on his face tempered by a melancholy that seemed very much at home there.

Lee finished her hacking and sat back up straight, wiping off her chin again, and then taking a long pull from her Icebock. She looked over the maple-brown glass of the bottle at her visitor. He met her gaze sadly, and then he sighed.

He said, "You have changed a great deal, Li."

Lee finished her swig of ultra-concentrated beer and let the hand holding the bottle fall heavily back to the table. She smirked at him and replied, "That's funny. I was just about to say the same thing about you, Michael."

They considered each other silently for another moment, in the way that older folks will do from time to time, and then Lee asked the red-haired man, "Are you finally going to kill me, then?"
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  • 3 months later...

Part the Second

"Of course not, Li", said the red-haired man, looking miffed that he even had to say as much. "Don't be ridiculous. And please don't call me by that name. I've asked you before not to use it."

"So you have", replied Lee, looking much more calm than she felt. She'd dreaded this encounter for decades, and now that it was here she didn't know what to expect. The most powerful being on the planet was seated across a battered old table from her, and during the many decades they'd known each other she'd done much worse to him than use a name he didn't like.

And to think things had started so innocuously between them.

>>>>>>>>>> <<<<<<<<<<
The Past

It's the 17th of November, 1924. She is standing in the parlour of an old brownstone in Chicago, being introduced to the members of the 'Aeon Society for Gentlemen'. She thinks she knows what the words 'society' and 'gentleman' mean, but she is unclear on the meaning of the word 'aeon'. She had thought she at least understood what the words, taken as a whole meant, but as she is a woman, and as she has just been offered a membership in this 'gentlemen's club', she is no longer sure.

According to her memory she is less than four months old, yet she inhabits the body of a fully grown woman of surpassing beauty and uncertain heritage. She speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, and Russian, but she does not know when or how she came to speak these languages. Professor Thomas "Long Tom" Rudwick has been teaching her English, and while her progress thus far has been impressive, the language is still as strange and exotic to her as everything else in the world.

She was discovered in the wastes of northern China, in a ruined laboratory filled with dead men. Something was done to her there, something that she can feel just under her skin, changing her even now. She has shared it with no one yet, but she has doubts about her humanity. More troubling to her, is that she cannot remember if she ever felt differently.

She smiles at the extraordinary individuals gathered around her like there is nothing wrong.

The head of the Society, Maxwell Mercer, is in the middle of making introductions. She forces herself to pay attention.

"And this is one of my oldest and dearest friends", says Mercer, in a vital, confident, genuine tone that leaves no doubt in her mind that he means exactly what he says, and would lay down his life for this man in an instant. But then, Maxwell Mercer is the sort of man who only ever seems to say exactly what he means.

He is speaking of a tall man, with exceedingly red hair and piercing green eyes, whose physical perfection is at least the equal of her own, but unlike her he is not smiling. He gives the impression of someone who smiles rarely.

Mercer’s expression is bright enough for all three of them, however, as he places his hand on the tall man's shoulder and continues, "may I introduce Dr. Michael Daemon Donighal?”

She extends a hand, which the tall man takes dutifully. Somewhat nervously she struggles to say, “pleez tuh meetchoo, Doke-tor”, stumbling over the English consonants. “Likewise”, he answers, politely ignoring her rough English, and shooting an annoyed look at Maxwell. “However", he adds, "please; call me Doctor Primoris. I no longer go by my old name.”

>>>>>>>>>> <<<<<<<<<<

The Present

"You always were particular about names", Lee allowed after a moment. She looked down and took another pull from her Aventinus. She was going to need another one of these things pretty soon, she knew. Assuming she really did make it out of this conversation alive, she had every intention of getting well and truly sloshed this evening. Encounters with godlike beings always made her want to go on a bender.

Her visitor (who was, of course, Dr. Primoris, known to most as Divis Mal, the nova who had grabbed the attention of the entire world less than a year ago when he issued his notorious "Null Manifesto") smiled at her and replied, "You're one to talk, you know? You haven't exactly taken to your given name either, from what I understand."

She wanted to ask how he knew that she'd learned what her true name was in the first place, let alone how he knew the name itself. She wanted to accuse him of bluffing, and confirm that he didn't know that she knew. But she didn't ask, and she didn't challenge. He was who he was, and he'd always had a habit of knowing things he shouldn't have.

So instead she snorted disparagingly and retorted, "You mean Aksinya? It’s an Orthodox name, taken directly from the old Greek."

Knowing that her guest was a classically-educated Harvard graduate, Lee waited for him to make the connection between her name and the Greek xenos, but the non-descript nova across from her said nothing, though he did cock one eyebrow.

"It means 'foreigner'", she said finally, and bitterly, when it became apparent he wasn’t going to rise to the bait.

"That's all. Even my own mother - whore that she was - thought of me as an outcast. 'Li' is a better name by far."

Divis Mal offered her a sympathetic look, but what he said was, "Then your mother was right, Li."

Lee's eyes narrowed and she fixed him with a truly scornful glare, but he raised his hands slightly in a placating way and said, "You misunderstand me, Li, and now that I perceive how you truly think of yourself, it saddens me. I meant only that you, me, and all of those like us are outsiders. We are foreigners without a country, searching for a place to call home, and a people to call our own."

Lee's eyes lost their scornful look, but only because she was rolling them impatiently. "Oh god, how can you talk such fignjá, eh?" Just one of the many bad habits that Lee had picked up over the years was a tendency to switch back and forth between the five different languages she spoke mid-sentence - especially when searching for a slang phrase of any kind. In this case she'd landed on a rather outdated Russian slang word while trying to think of the best way to convey her feelings that 'Michael' was full of it.

She was somewhat surprised when Mal responded - in Russian - with the phrase, "Ty mne van'ku ne val'aj", which, translated literally, meant, "Don't roll around like a vanka." A 'vanka' being the name given to the village idiot in many Russian stories. It conveyed the same meaning as the English phrase, "don't pretend you don't understand what I'm saying". It was such an odd colloquialism to hear from the mouth of the man across from her that Lee had to laugh.

"Your Russkiy Yazyk is worse than my English!", she said, causing the red-haired nova to smile in a way that was self-effacing at the same time that it was supremely self-confident. Lee was struck by just how much the man had changed since she'd first met him. She was more than a little inebriated at the moment, but she had still managed to put two and two together, and had realized that he was going to some lengths to mask the full impact of his presence and his power for this meeting (presumably so that they could speak in peace, without having to deal with the locals). Even so, Lee couldn't help being impressed with him, despite her best efforts not to be. A fact she found irritating.

"My Russian is just fine, thank you", said Mal, the confident smile still on his face, "and your attempts at changing the subject are not working."

"Ah", muttered Lee resignedly (and drunkenly), but with a coy half-smile, "you noticed, did you?"

"I did."

Lee pursed her lips and then, after a brief pause, puffed them out and blew air through them.

"Fine", she said, "proselytize away, then. I will listen." And she took another swig of Aventinus.

Now it was Divis Mal's turn to purse his lips, this time in frustration. Lee was hardly the only person to ever get under his skin, but she did seem to have a special talent for trivializing what he thought important. Had this converstation been taking place eighty years ago, he would likely have become angry with her and spoken rashly, but this was now and he was no longer the same man that he was then. Was not a man at all, in fact.

"This isn't about conversion, Li. You are already of the One Race whether you want to admit it or not. I only wish you could see the truth of this, and your amazing potential, the way I do."

"I'm sure you do", Lee said, but with only half-hearted sarcasm. "And I suppose that all I must do to realize this 'marvellous potential' of mine, is to drop my beer like St. Peter's fishing nets, and come follow you, eh?"

The non-descript nova sitting across from her sighed and shook his hand slowly in the negative, as though it were standing in for his head for the time being. "No, Li, I would never ask you to simply follow me - or anyone else - nor would I ask you merely to join our cause."

He leaned forward in his seat, folding his hands together on the table's top and looking directly into Lee's eyes. "I've come to ask for your help, Li."

"My help?", she asked incredulously. "Why would you need help from me?"

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Part the Third

Mal leaned back in his chair at her questions and smiled a supremely confident smile that, to Lee, seemed out of place and surprising. Her old 'friend' had always been passionate, even arrogant, but when had he become so self-assured?

"Well, I should have thought it was obvious. The One Race has accomplished much since it first made itself known to the world at large. But it is still such a young race, one full of children and infants, perhaps a few adolescents, and only the tiniest handful of mature adults. You, Li, are a part of that tiny handful, as am I, and our brothers and sisters are in need of the guidance we can offer them."

Lee couldn't help but stare at him upon hearing these words.

"Look at me, Divis. Hell, look where you found me", and she gesticulated expansively, indicating the filthy surroundings of the Swaggering Rooster. "Why would anyone want any guidance I could give them?"

She shook her head ruefully and continued, "You make it sound as though it's all so grand and new and miraculous. 'The One Race', my 'brothers and sisters' and their need for 'guidance'. But you and I know it isn't so miraculous, and it certainly isn't new, is it?"

"No it isn't", answered Mal, "and that's exactly my point. We, as a race, have a heritage, a past, and a destiny."

Divis Mal leaned across the dirty table and laid his large, masculine, flesh and blood hand over one of Lee's cold, hard, metal ones - the one holding her bottle of Aventinus. Lee stared at his hand and fought the urge to pull away. She looked back up and found Mal staring at her with a look of unbelievably earnest sincerity, and she felt her breath catch in her throat. He had changed.

"Li", he said, "after all these years, each of us knows the other better than almost anyone else does. You know that I have always been the visionary and the dreamer, you know that it has always been easier for me to look forward than to look back - or even, at times, to see what is right in front of me. I can so clearly see the destiny that awaits our race that it is very nearly blinding. And yet I know that we cannot ignore our past without endangering our future."

Mal withdrew his hand, and Lee suddenly felt she could breathe again. She raised the Aventinus to her lips and took a comforting swig of it before answering. "Right, well that's all very poetic, Divis, but what does any of it have to do with me?"

"Everything", he answered, simply. "You and I are very possibly the last of our generation. But you are important for more than simply your rarity, Li. It is the perspective that only those of our generation possess that is so vital to our people's future.

"Novas", he said, "in the world today know nothing of a world in which they must always hide their true natures. A world where they are not merely a minority, but actually an endangered species.

"How many decades did you spend last century wondering if you and I were the only two of our kind left?"

He cocked one perfectly non-descript eyebrow at her, and continued, "this new generation does not remember - or never knew - that while we are strong, and while the future is ours, we are not invincible. Not yet.

"We need older, wiser novas like you amongst our ranks, Li. Novas who know what it is to have power, but who also know that power alone is not enough. Who know that unless you truly believe in something - and are willing to sacrifice everything for that belief - then all the power in the universe is useless."

As he finished speaking, Divis Mal seemed to slump into his chair. And he gazed at her with an expression on his face that contained more emotions than she could easily name and said, "I'm doing all I can for them, Li, but I fear it isn't enough. I worry for them. They're all so much... so much more than I could ever have hoped for - and I am not simply speaking of my fellow brothers and sisters walking the path of Teras. I'm speaking of all of them. Even the Utopians.

"But I worry. I fear that those in the Teragen have placed me on too high a pedestal, so that they can no longer hear my words. And those without have demonized me, so that my words are anathema to them, and fall on deaf ears. Li, I worry for them, and this is why I've come to you for help."

And he said, "Please Li, help us."

Lee stared at the table for several seconds, and the expression on her face also contained more emotions than could easily be named. Finally, still staring at the table, she all but whispered, "if only Max could have heard you just then..."

Because her eyes were fixed on a point a thousand yards past the wood grain of the table's top, she failed to see Divis Mal flinch at her words.

Then her eyes met his and she said, "You've changed, Divis Mal. You've changed a great deal, and now that we've spoken I realize that I don't hate you anymore (though I still don't like you). But the reason I don't hate you anymore is not because you've changed, you horrible old man. It is simply because I am empty; I have no more hate in me, it seems. Funny, I never realized it until just now."

Seeing the look coming into Mal's eyes and spreading across his face, Lee smiled bitterly and said, "you were wrong to come here, thinking that I had anything to offer you or anyone else. I believe in nothing, Divis. Not a brighter future, not justice or order, certainly not in the 'One Race'. I'm empty. Hollow."

Her eyes did not leave his as she spoke. "The first chunk of my soul was ripped from me when poor, sweet Annabelle betrayed us all, back in '39. You remember that, don't you Divis?" The face of the non-descript man seated across from her was hard, and he did not answer her question.

"Most of the rest", Lee continued, "of my insides were ripped out in 1941 when...", but here she hesitated for an instant, and her eyes became suddenly moist, "... when my Tom...", and here her lip began to quiver, and it seemed she might break down into tears, but only for an instant and then it all passed, like a tremor in the Earth, "... when Professor Rudwick was murdured by the Dragon. In front of my eyes. Just before I murdured him. I remember that he laughed and laughed while I killed him, asking in a mocking tone, 'Doesn't this all seem familiar, Li? Doesn't it seem familiar? Because it should!' He just kept on repeating it.

"'Because it should!' That was the last thing he said. And do you know what? It did seem familiar. Like killing someone that way was as natural to me as breathing."

Lee cocked her head and asked Divis Mal, "odd isn't it, how no one ever found out how I came to be in that ruined laboratory, all alone, surrounded by dead men? I mean, who was I originally, that doing what I did to the Dragon would seem so natural? Whoever I was, I couldn't have been a very good person, could I?"

She shrugged, "what little was left of me after that was shaken loose and carved away over the following decades by one little tragedy or another, or drowned in one form of alcohol or another. I hung on as long as I could."

Finally she looked away from Divis. "But now I am empty. There is nothing here for you, or anyone else. So go back home, old man, wherever that is."

Divis listened while Lee spoke, with an unreadable expression on his face, but when she had finished he sighed deeply and sadly. In all honesty, he had known what to expect when he'd come here and he could hardly claim to be surprised. Still, seeing the firsthand evidence of his oldest (living) aquaintance's personal fall to rock bottom wasn't easy. He had come hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

He'd come on the off chance that Lee would accept his offer, but he'd also come to give her a gift. One that might give her the tools to repair her shattered life.

"I'm sorry to hear you say that, Lee", said Divis as he pushed his chair back and rose to his feet. He pulled a card from a pocket and slid it across the table towards Lee. "If you change your mind, just leave a message at that OpMail address."

Lee glanced at the card but didn't take it. "Just go", was all she said.

"I will", answered Divis, "but first, I have one more thing for you, Lee."

"Yeah, what's that?"

"A question."

Lee only shot him a sour look in return, in answer to which Divis smiled gently.

"Have you ever wondered", he asked, "why you can't remember how you came to be in this city? In this place?"

Lee made a face and blinked at Mal once, then twice, and then the look - and her color - drained away and she stiffened.

"... what?"

"This city", Mal repeated, "why did you come here?"

Confusedly, Lee muttered, "the investigation in Hong Kong... I was... disavowed... Came here..."

"Were you?", asked her non-descript visitor, stuffing his hands in his pockets and preparing to leave, "that's odd, because what I've heard is that the Society has been looking for you for the better part of a decade now, but have been unable to locate you. I hear they want to ask you why you walked out in the middle of that Hong Kong investigation you just mentioned, without even a 'good bye'.

"Don't you think that's odd? That the Society hasn't been able to find you after all this time, when you've just been sitting right here in this god-awful bar for most of that time? I wonder why that is..."

Divis Mal turned to leave, and this finally seemed to pull Lee out of her reverie. But it was too late, he was already walking away from her.

"Wait!", she pleaded, "What do you mean they're--?"

"Good bye, Lee", said Divis, looking over his shoulder. "It was so nice seeing you again."

And then he was gone.

End Dialogue Number 2

Science had to account for these aberrations.

I suppose, in the Amazon and in the South Sea Islands, all the medicine men were similarly upon trial.

Something had to be thought of.

Galatea: that's the explanation that we scientists gave. I don't know what whopper the medicine men told.


On where novas come from

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Dialogue Number 3
The Badly Written Finale

07 January, 2008

Part the 1st
It took nearly a year and a half of careful inquiring and the calling upon of many old favors (and the performing of a few new favors, as well), but eventually Lee found herself in communication with her “old friends” in the Aeon Society.

Of course, “careful inquiring” in this case meant using a tortuously complicated system of Dead-OpLetter-Drops for third party go-betweens who then took the information they found and used it to construct ciphers which were themselves used for the content of ads placed in certain classified sections of certain newspapers. A bit clichéd and overdone? Sure. But Lee didn’t want to take any chances. Considering the huge gaping hole in her memory (the new one, not the old one), she could no longer be sure just who was on whose side.

Especially since all of her “old friends” in the Aeon Society were dead. Which was not to say she hadn’t made any new ones, but who knew if they were still around anymore?

For the past few months, though, she’d been taking out the classified ads herself and had cut out all the middlemen, and now a face to face meeting had finally been set, and an offer had been made to bring her back in. She was nervous as hell. Thank God for Amp Wells.

What made it even harder was that she wasn’t even sure she wanted to come back in. Was she enjoying her current life? Hardly. But it had given her a lot of time to think about her past, and she’d found that it was a past filled with far more regrets and disappointments than proud accomplishments. Did she really want to let herself in for more of that?

The answer was that she didn’t know whether she did or not, but she did want to know what had happened to her eleven years ago, and who had taken her memories (again). She was tired of feeling like a broken machine, and despite her much vaunted philosophy of personal debauchery; she was beginning to crave contact with other people that didn’t involve physical violence or impersonal lust.

Lee was in the middle of a swallow from her Well when the contact from Aeon walked into the Swaggering Rooster. She recognized him immediately and nearly choked on the alcohol going down her throat because of it. He was an older man of perhaps fifty, standing a little over six feet, with a handsome and honest face, his hair was a neatly cut yellow-gray that had obviously once been very blond, and he had the lean build of a career military man. He recognized Lee at about the same time she recognized him, smiled, and made his way towards her.

As the older man approached her table, Lee stood up to meet him (a bit unsteadily, due to the Amp Wells in her system) and they embraced warmly. They stepped back from the embrace and, though he looked old enough to be her father, Lee exclaimed happily, “My sweet little Jakey! I had forgotten how tall and handsome you’d become!”, and though she looked young enough to be his daughter (or the youngest of four daughters, for that matter) he smiled back at her and almost sheepishly replied, “hello Auntie Lee”.

It had turned out that the man Aeon had sent as her contact was Jacob Stefokowski, the grandson of none other than Jake “Danger Ace” Stefokowski. Danger Ace had been one of the founding members of the Aeon Society, and of the founding members, he’d been the one that Lee had made friends with the quickest. And, as it had turned out that Ace had lasted the longest out of the original Aeon lineup (excepting herself and Primoris/Mal, of course, and – possibly – Maxwell), their friendship had only grown with the years. In fact, Lee had been the Maid of Honor at his wedding, more than six decades ago – something she had not thought about for a very, very long time. She had watched his son grow up and have children of his own, and then she had seen his son's children grow up as well. ‘Little Jakey’ had always been her favorite of Jake’s grandchildren, but Lee had not seen him for nearly two decades.

As she looked him over now, and realized what a fine and distinguished old man he was becoming, Lee had to admit that he was probably the single best choice of individual that the Society could have sent to meet her tonight.
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