Screw this, he thought.
A grimace graced Porter’s face, inwardly he refused to stifle it for these people. He stood before the court, at the bottom and center, surrounded by the council on all sides. The room was bathed in white daylight. All around people were adorned in formal wear, suits, and conservative dresses. Three High Councilmembers faced him down, each wearing grey.
Intimidation tactics, Porter thought. He raised his chin a hair, knowing they would analyze his every motion.
“Mister Quinn Lee Porter, I understand you will be representing yourself,” a middle-aged woman said. She sat at the lowest level of the council, summarily she possessed great importance.
“I am,” Porter replied.
“So you are. Are you now or do you intend to subvert the proceedings of this court?” Her voice was magnified through the chamber, but Porter saw no microphone.
“I do not now nor will I ever attempt to do so, your honor.” He couldn’t if he wanted to.
The councilwoman looked to the dark, glass sphere that loomed above the court, assuring that he spoke truthfully. Porter shifted a little, for a second unsure. When the councilwoman’s face showed no sign of change, he made sure that his grimace didn’t betray his true emotions.
“Mister Porter,” an elderly councilman spoke now. “You led a team of five on a mission to contain and terminate a god-minor. This council is to determine a punishment for the outcome of said mission.”
“If any punishment is necessary,” Porter added. Losses happen.
“You will speak when permitted!” The councilman quickly reverted to shouting, becoming flustered. “The need for punitive measures has already been determined, Mister Porter.” He said it so condescendingly. It grated on Porter.
“I don’t understand this… the mission was a success.”
“At the cost of four operatives. An unacceptably high casualty rate must be addressed. You’ve been in this spot before Sir, and the council feels that the burden to break this cycle lies upon us,” the elderly man’s voice lowered. He was building up Porter realized.
“The council can’t legally reach verdict prehearing, I wasn’t present to defend myself,” Porter protested, pointing out that they’d already made up their mind.
“Nonetheless.” The third and final judge to share the floor was a younger man. He spoke with gravitas. “The council may reach consensus, and you have no argument to dissuade us that you have shown.”
Like hell I don’t.
“You’re philosophers. You know nothing about what it’s like to face down a god. I’ve done it twenty-six times, and I have walked away twenty-six times with scars and loss. Victory always comes at a price. You can’t sideline me, there’s no one who can replace me.” No one that can do what I do.
“The council motions to remove Quinn Lee Porter from the Eidolon Cause, all who second-”
“This is!-” Porter started, but his interruption was stopped.
“I petition to speak!” Everyone looked to the source of the voice, up in the back rows of the council.
“Identify yourself,” the elder councilman called.
An Eastern looking young man was standing among the back of the council. He was tall and lean, older teens or younger twenties. He wore a black suit and tie, with a crimson undershirt, unlike the blue suit and vest Porter wore. His raven hair was swept back, his curious eyes were locked on Porter. “Christopher, Magus,” he curtly said as he left his seat.
“No, the council is ready to reach a verdict,” the old man barked.
Porter couldn’t pull his gaze from those eyes. Whoever this kid was, he felt that he was on his side. “But technically any council member may speak, and everyone is a councilmember… technically,” Porter said, stumbling over the words a little.
“Irrelevant, I veto his petition.”
“Then I elect him as my representative,” remembering he could do that.
“No! This is subversive of the court!” the old man cried.
“He has the right to elect a representative at any time, and since the court is prosecuting, any representative is entitled to half of the speaking time,” the one who’d called himself Christopher said. He was already walking down the center steps towards the bottom of the court. He came to stand beside Porter, defiantly unfazed by the looks of disapproval that went around. A few of the younger people in the room were chuckling to themselves.
“Proceed, Magus,” the councilwoman said, exasperated.
“Thank you, ma’am.” Christopher turned his eye from Porter to sweep the court. “My fellow Utopians, our society is built upon a mastery of efficiency and self-control, let us not forget how we got to where we are. We entered this era through addressing our problems with permanence, we operate without waste. So, I won’t allow such subjective decision making to go forward as to place my friend Porter here outside of the Eidolon cause. Because what is a decision to completely remove him when he wants to assist the cause, anything but an under-considered idea based on personal subjectivisms like dislike.” He spoke quickly and Porter could see the council had been put off balance, bombarded with too much to absorb.
Who the hell is this guy?
“So in the spirit of operating intelligently and the avoidance of wasted resources, I motion that Porter is placed in a teaching position, to pass on his considerable skills.”
“No. That’s not-” Porter started.
“Well said, keen and humbling, I second,” The younger councilman quickly said. Ready to move along. “All in favor!”
All around the room people raised their hands, holding within them glowing green spheres. A majority was tallied by the same black sphere above that analyzed the room. It turned green.
“The motion carries! Quinn Lee Porter will be permitted a teaching position in the Eidolon initiative but is henceforth barred from combat. Council adjourned.” The gavel fell and people were already heading out the door. The judges’ images flickered out, proving themselves to have been a projection the entire time. Porter was soon left with no one to protest to as Christopher had vanished from his side the moment the gavel had struck.
He pulled his handkerchief from a coat pocket and dabbed at the sweat on his brow. Like he’d said, he’d faced down gods, but it was the councils that managed to actually make him sweat. He wasn’t built for this kind of thing. Focusing, talking, it took concentration to hold back his element.
Now, where the fuck had that kid gone.
Porter jogged out of the council chamber, following the throngs of people who were pouring out the large chamber doors, having come to watch the proceedings. For a moment he was blinded by the daylight outside, the clear sky overhead had few clouds. When his eyes adjusted he was treated to the sight of his home.
A monolithic supercity covered the earth, reaching up in some places into the blue on the horizon, rising up to meet the haze of space beyond. The line of a space elevator in the distance. Its shadows landed on the dark landscape of the surface, not quite reaching the other supercity, where Porter’s hearing had taken place.
He didn’t know why the architects insisted on having the cities separated by a land divide, though he trusted it to have a purpose. He descended a few paces down the courthouse steps and then walked forward until he met the railing. Looking over it Porter could see the sprawling grey cityscape below as well as what was suspended in the air above. He leaned hard on the railing and gave a sigh.
“Sorry things didn’t work out like you wanted,” Christopher said, joining Porter in leaning. He sighed louder. He ran a hand through his short blond hair, feeling the prickly little hairs on his face as it went there. He grimaced again, but this time, it was just to make a point.
“I owe you one, but teaching is not my idea of a good use for my skills. And, just for the record, we aren’t friends.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, of course we’re friends,” Christopher smiled. “And you underestimate yourself. You’ll be good with young people.”
“Young is just another word for inexperienced.”
“Hmm, well how old are you anyway? You’ve got nice features, rugged.”
Porter quirked an eyebrow, Christopher just kept smiling. He was a little uncomfortable. “I’m thirty-three.”
“Hmm. I’d half expected you to be a bit older, mistook you for an immortal.”
“I’m not, at least not yet,” Porter said.
“You’re young to have seen the kind of combat you have, then. I researched you a bit. High casualty record, you tend to take on threats you have no business tackling, and then roll with the consequences.”
The council had a point. He rejected the thought.
Porter diverted, “you’re one to talk. How’d you get permitted to attend a council meeting? One needs status.”
“Just like you, I’ve got a track record. I’m a student, with the Cause.”
“You’re… wait, you-”
“No, that wasn’t my agenda. I don’t work for the University, and you won’t be teaching me. There’s not much you could teach me anyway.”
“Hey. I’m one of the best.”
“Yes, applied metaphysics in combat. There’re some impressive and scary things you can do. That’s why I hate to see your talent wasted, I have a personal obsession with your missions and your methods Quinn. I sit in on most court proceedings, I’ve tried to keep myself unnoticed, but I couldn’t help myself in your case. You’ve got insight, Quinn, and that’s rare. I believe in the Cause, and I believe in you.”
“People call me Porter.” He diverted again, not sure of how to take the compliment.
“I’m not people Quinn. We’re good friends, remember,” Christopher assured.
“Sure,” Porter said. “Yeah, hey, it was, uh, nice meeting you Christopher, but I’ve got things to see to. Like my new job… and lunch, now that I think about it.”
“Absolutely.” And with that Christopher turned his eyes to the cityscape, grinning and looking all too pleased. Porter couldn’t help feeling a little uneasy.
He shoved off the railing and then headed down the sidewalk, hands in his pockets, still pissed about this whole thing. Clouds were gathering in the lower city, rolling over the structures, he noticed. It would probably be raining, in those older quiet places of the city.
Trapped, she thought.
Over Anna’s head, a grey fog turned the sky a pale white, giving forth the occasional raindrop. The rain failed to touch her, though, beneath the eaves of her front porch. For some reason, her eyes were drawn to that water, gathered in still puddles on the road in front of her house, disturbed only by the sparse rain. She stood from the rocking chair on her porch, putting aside the book she’d held in hand.
She closed her hands tightly, her fingers felt numb from the cold air. Her breath quickened nervously, she closed her eyes. In darkness, the world felt small, but nothing truly changed.
She skipped out onto the street, hood keeping her short blond hair dry. Doctor Elroy was sitting on his own porch across the street, watching the rain. “Where’re you going?” he called out.
“Down to the rec-center, maybe swim I guess,” Anna lied.
“You should probably be back in by five,” he said. Elroy, a craggy old white man, was in his pajamas and hadn’t shaved his greying beard in years. He was constantly acting parental towards Anna and although she usually didn’t mind, right now she was standing in the rain and was up to sneaky business. So this was bad.
“Crime rates are like, point one percent Elroy, so I’ll stay out if I have something to do.”
His furry eyebrows furrowed. “Five O’clock gives you seven hours for shenanigans, that’s plenty time young lady.”
“As always, you’re right Doc. See you at five.” Anna had no earthly idea just what Elroy was a doctor of. When she asked he wouldn’t say. He seemed to know more about Anna’s activities than he should, though, so that was telling.
Anna left Elroy behind to head down the road, which was more of a large walkway, considering that not many people drove cars. Walking she passed only a few others, a family of six walking together in dress reminded Anna it was Sunday. But mostly people stayed inside when it was even lightly raining, which it often did in the lower city. The wet concrete went from grey to near black down in the lower city. She wouldn’t call it run down where she lived, it was by no means a slum, it was simply a sleepy part of the world. Where you could hear the wind and your own thoughts, where it often drizzled or poured.
The wind, though, Anna thought, that’s what I love, the way it flows like a river between objects.
She could feel it on her pale skin, against her jeans and jacket, in her hair and eyelashes. It carried away with it the negative thoughts about the burns on her face and neck, and everything else.
For a moment, her mind turned to that day, but Anna shook her head, willing the thoughts away.
She arrived at her destination. Most building fronts were privately owned and well kept, but this building was state owned and apparently had been forgotten some time ago. It was ironic that a police station, the ancient building that it was, was no longer necessary. Anna approached and pushed the ply board covering the entrance aside.
Within the air was stagnant, she didn’t like that. She passed into the back of the building by memory, the darkness not stymieing her. She found her way to her sanctum, which used to be the chief’s office.
Only the best, Anna quipped to herself.
The desk was pushed aside and on the floor sheets of cardboard and paper were strewn about. On their surface in paint was drawn an assortment of symbols in circular patterns. Anna took her time lighting candles placed around the room’s periphery, giving the space an amber tinge. She cleared up some of her work, keeping a few sheets at hand. Up on the desk was a book entitled ‘symbolism and magic’, which she threw onto the floor to work with.
She sat cross-legged in the middle of her texts and writings, quickly opening the book to her marker and reading out loud.
“Assuming you’ve reached a practicable level of Attunement, the symbolic arts can function independently of deific and spirit intercession with Existence. Do not proceed until you’ve passed the basic psionics portion of the…” she mumbled through that bit. “Now using the runes pictured below… originating in the Yands culture, where empathetic and symbolic practice is common… Use this fire rune. Holding the rune in your mind once drawn, and intensely meditating. Don’t be discourage if you only achieve vague warmth… Bleh, symbols, symbols, oh look more symbols.” Anna paged through the book, skim reading for a few minutes in the dim room. “Where are the goddamn space displacements…” She threw the book away and it crashed over a stack of similar texts in the corner.
All I’m asking for is information on extremely advanced technique in a novice’s guide, is that too much to ask? Her sarcasm was tinged with frustration.
It’d been months now that she’d had been at this. None of it was on the internet, but the books could be bought online. Eighty credits later and probably somewhere around three or four serious laws broken, she was no closer to interdimensional travel. It was a big Omniverse out there, and she was gripped with some sort of claustrophobia. Had to get out, but she wasn’t making any damn headway.
On the bright side, nobody except Elroy suspected she was dabbling.
Anna nearly jumped out of her skin, as a voice came booming through the building. “Anna Lynn Canton, this is Law Enforcement!”