Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

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Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

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In the end, getting into contact with the Yamahanese tycoon proved rather more difficult than one might expect. Zechariah’s communiques kept bouncing around inside the Shirotractus corporate hierarchy. He spoke to rodents and felines and avians, all with important-sounding titles, but none of them could connect him directly to Hester. Some of them appeared purposefully unwilling to cooperate, others used acerbic attitude to try to put the dragon off, but these were appearances for the sake of appearances. Behind the fronts and affronts seemed to be a genuine confusion. It was increasingly clear that Zechariah had just intruded into some kind of internal crisis which had nearly the entire mogul’s empire off-kilter, seemingly paralyzed, unable to act, only able to maintain the flimsy appearance of free-agency.

Finally one of the more snobbish figures with an important-sounding but basically empty title connected Zech to someone with more power and closer association to the tycoon in question. The avian did not introduce herself and bore no impressive corporate titles- or any identification at all- but her bearing and sharp gaze spoke volumes more than any honorific could have. After hearing the dragon’s request, she stepped out of the view of the videophone. Even among such stratospherically elevated individuals, the unease and uncertainty boiled just beneath the surface. It was sufficiently distracting that she had failed to actually mute the call. Muffled voices could be heard- an argument. It seemed Hester was unwilling- or perhaps unable- to speak with Zechariah. The argument continued for a few minutes, became heated, and abruptly broke off.

More than fifteen minutes passed during which the video feed showed only a black chair and the lip of a desk. Finally the avian woman returned. She did not appear quite so in charge as she had originally. “Hester will meet you tomorrow at 1 PM.” She took a second to straighten the papers on her desk before tacking on “here, in person.” The video feed cut out and an address appeared on-screen: the Asahiru Medical Research Institute, in Yamaha.



It was one of the foremost centers of medical research in the world, and certainly the most capable hospital in Yamaha. The complex of squat, massive buildings occupied a compound just across a bridge from the island of Yamaha’s capital, host to the original 1920’s era hospital for which the institute was named. Zechariah did not get far before Shirotractus employees closed in on him from three different directions and proceeded to escort him briskly onward. The medical center did not belong to Shirotractus, but the corporation had made… significant investments, and made use of many of the research facilities on-site.

An advantage of the escort was that the normally stringent security measures at the entrance to each building and at checkpoints between them were quickly bypassed. Rounding a corner on the fourth floor of one of the larger glass edifices they found the avian from before- a Piriquian parrot with bright green, glossy plumage- arguing with a tassel of doctors. They were all frowning faces and furrowed brows. As the group approached she turned and favored Zechariah with an ‘this is all your fault’ expression. The argument seemed to concern him. “Welcome,” she said in the most incredibly unwelcoming tone possible. “My name is Adannaya Ihejirika.” She failed to state her position or purpose. It was an intentional omission.



The room was full of the kind of noisy silence one came to expect in a hospital setting, particularly in the intensive care unit. It was a white noise of humming machinery, whirring pumps, the steady rhythm of the respirator. Hester was surrounded by bulky machines of clinical white, encapsulated by IV’s and the tubes running from the respirator into his mouth and nose and onward. He didn’t say anything because he couldn’t speak in this state. But he was awake. Alert eyes peered up at Zechariah and the parrot assistant from a gaunt face, severely emaciated by his ongoing struggle. He looked more like a corpse than a man.

The doctors hovered near the door, unhappy by this intrusion and unwilling to leave. The senior-most man, a yamahanese feline, briefly explained what was going on, alternating between kind euphemism and comfortably detached clinical jargon. A week ago Hester was stricken down by a massive pulmonary hemorrhage. Hester was battling a truly ferocious illness. Ever more aggressive, endlessly metastasizing cancer was being fought with ever more powerful and consequently damaging treatments. This most recent incident had marked a sudden and unexpected worsening of his condition. A healthy man might slowly recover from such an event given surgery and therapy. The doctor didn’t go into tremendous detail, but the rest was there in the emptiness between the words: Hester would not. He was trading comfort and quality of life for time- and not much time at that.

Hester had a computer terminal at his bedside, carefully positioned near his right hand, but he wasn’t using it at the moment. He just watched Zechariah.

“You’re here,” Adannaya stated, “what do you want?”
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

Communications with Hester Zeezodt had never, at the best of times, been straightforward. Of course, Zechariah had to admit that the fault could be put to both sides for this. After all, their first encounter had been when the dragon suppressed a certain historical paper of his that came precious near the real history of Feila.

If his intention was to dampen the rat's fervor for exposing the cover-up of the world's magical history, it backfired; but at this moment, the dragon was thankful to heaven that it had. Right now, what he needed right now was to talk through things with one other fur who could understand what he was talking about.

The obstacles to his doing so were almost a mirror of his own mood; stoical taciturnity concealing inner turmoil. His steady policy of half a century of concealing the past had been upended by a series of events, of resurrections, that at best would make all his efforts for naught. He was so old, and had changed so many times; but his efforts to change back to what he had been 1,000 years ago was proving hardest of all...


Patience and perseverance had paid off. The parrot Adannaya was leading him through the halls of the facility, and already Zech had a good idea of why they were there. He did not gainsay the accusation that it was his fault.

He stepped into the room, meeting the eyes of Hester without blinking. That much fortitude of character had not deserted him after all these centuries. He spoke clearly and softly to answer the parrot's question, but his words were directed at Hester. "I came to say that I was wrong, and that I am sorry. I had thought that I could keep the world safe by concealing the truth, but now that policy can no longer stand. I was probably mistaken from the first in ever pursuing it, and I've left it too near to too late in my realization, I fear. I don't know if you're still willing to talk to me, or how much time you have, but there is much I should like to discuss before the end." An apology was probably the only way to open, under the circumstances. He had considerable bargaining chips, in terms of what he could tell the rodent, but to drive bargains so near to the doors of death sat ill with him.
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

Hester’s hand moved laboriously across the keypad. By virtue of the effort this took, his statements through the droning of the artificial voice were short and to the point. “It is okay. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

Twenty years ago he would have responded with vitriol and rage. He hadn’t known at first just why his papers had failed to make the waves they should have. He’d been young and naive and simple brilliance could not make up for it. Only after many years had he uncovered more of the truth, that another had acted against him, that a feilan somewhere with considerable resources stood in his way. He’d been angry when he found out, too. But that was the past. Hester simply no longer cared. A blocked paper was irrelevant to his current plan. The plan consumed him in his entirety, as well as his ego. Nothing else mattered. Zechariah could have opened by calling him a bastard and spitting on him, it would have made no difference.

Hester worked the keypad. The computer droned out a single word: “leave.” It was not directed at Zechariah. The doctors in the room hesitated, reluctant to leave such an ailing patient unattended; Adannaya did not. An order was an order. She immediately turned and forced the other men from the room with the force of her will broadcast through her piercing gaze. She then departed herself and closed the door from the other side.

The two of them were alone now; the immortal dragon, the dying man, and the machines holding him from the precipice with ever-weakening grip. More key-taps followed and the computer droned on, “you tried to control chaos. Knowledge. Magic. You should have known better.”

“What is on your mind?”
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

Conversing in solitude; was it really so much to deny it to a dying fur? Doctors seemed to think so, but Hester had filled the institute enough with his own people to get his own way, it seemed. Zechariah took a seat on one of the few chairs, anticipating a long visit. Keytaps could hardly match the speed of a voice.

"Against mere chaos and power I should have resisted forever. Now, however, I have to deal with things more intractable and maddening." A half-smile, not without humor, tugged his lip upward briefly. "In short, two old enemies have offered friendship and alliance, and are quite at odds with each other. I, however, need to placate both if I'm going to get any worth out of either, and to be enemies once again is simply not an option. But that doesn't mean much to you, so I'll get to the heart of the matter. You know what the Darkness Song is, I take it? It's last touch with us corresponds to the date of the artifacts you've extracted from Gawain."
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

An eloquent metaphor sprang to Hester’s mind as Zechariah spoke of resisting chaos forever. It was like stone- massive and orderly, powerful in its own way- resisting the chaos of a flowing river. In the end you have a canyon. If speaking still came easy to him, he still would not have said these things. What was the point? And besides, he no longer had the time for a lengthy argument. The victor would surely win by outlasting him.

He tapped at the keypad for a while. “Enemies are fools. The Song will destroy Feila unless we stop it. Nothing will survive.”

Tapa-tapa-tapa-tapa. “What artifacts?”
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

What artifacts, indeed? It would have been an impudent question, except for the fact that Hester had so large a collection, that specifics were necessary. "That unusual construct, what would look like an ancient robot, made from a material not known in modern manufacturing. I believe you got a hold of a self-repairing one? These were golems, operated by the puppets, or rather the dupes, of the song, 1,000 years ago..."

Zechariah then began to retell the story. It had been a while since he'd told anyone about it, as those who would know what he was talking about knew it already. He meant it to be a short summary, but the memories overwhelmed him, and he spoke at length about a certain student of his, Telemain, who had been at the center of the conflict. Of Vedicus, the sinister face of the operation; of battles fought at the very doorstep of the University so long ago; of the revelation of Consensus and Dissent; of Tamas and Leviathan, the other constructs; of the final effort by his student to prevent the coming of the Song, at the cost of his very existence...

The dragon blinked. There was no timepiece in sight, but he felt that he had been talking at far to great a length. He shook himself. "Some of those players are still alive. If we are to have any hope, they must all be made to work together. Consensus fears its constructs, and will not let them alone; the constructs in turn do not trust Consensus. Either Consensus or Dissent have acted behind my back in such a way that I cannot continue to trust them myself, let alone convince others to do so. I am... somewhat lost. I know you understand the danger we are in, so I came to you. How much am I in danger of delivering the world into the claws of that which I seek to save it?"
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

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This dragon knew far more than he should about Shirotractus operations. Hester tapped on his keypad for a moment, but no voice came forth. It became clear he was communicating elsewhere when Adannaya came into the room. More taps followed: “Security breach maybe at Ractus or elsewhere. Find it.”

The parrot nodded shortly, “yes sir”, and careened out of the room with her usual momentum. She was Hester’s most capable assistant, though ‘operative’ might be the better word. He would match her against any infiltrator or turn-coat without hesitation. In fact she had a penchant for wildly creative solutions to problems not dissimilar to the student in Zechariah’s story.

The tycoon lay in silent thought for a moment, processing the dragon’s words. The name Vedicus was immediately familiar; his scholars and scientists had been able to determine with some confidence that the self-healing construct strewn throughout the warehouse at the Ractus research station in the Black Mountains had a name derived from the Book of Leviticus. Their interpretation was that it must have been some kind of peacekeeper, or a system for law enforcement. This Vedicus did not fit that profile, yet the name seemed too close to be coincidence, and they had found the construct not all that far from the former site of the University, geographically speaking, albeit under an ocean.

The name Telemain was also familiar to him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. It was like something from a dream, mostly forgotten, lingering as an impression- not the name as it was spoken, but bits and pieces of it, here and there, coming together to form the thought ever so briefly. It was liquid, impossible to hold for long. Like the Song. He realized suddenly that this is where he knew the name from; a verse not repeated in many years.

“The Voice sings to each of us. It knows us as individuals through our dreams. It sings to you and knows you too. With practice and discipline you could hear it but probably not understand it. Maybe. Depends. Singing back is probably possible too. Maybe. No records of that happening.

“The Song tries to steer us. Great distance makes the pressure weak but it is there. It beckons to each of us to help it arrive. It makes personal appeals to each of us and every Feilan everywhere. Chaotic situations are optimal. Many enemies all looking for advantage. Under pressure to defeat each other. Driven to compromise their ethics and morality. These situations are dangerous. If the Song tricks one side of conflict into aiding it all sides lose.

“Unity decreases the risk.”

Hester stopped and lay in silence for a few minutes, resting his hand from all the typing. He wondered briefly whether he could fully trust this dragon, but he immediately dismissed the possibility. He could not. A lot of the information the dragon wanted was ultimately irrelevant though and safe to dispense. Barring drastic action, the Voice would arrive on its own eventually, and all the politicking of an era long forgotten ten thousand years prior would make absolutely no difference to the outcome. Making deals with the Voice had been proven futile as well. The situation seemed hopeless… but it was not. There was a way. Hester’s latest and last grand plan was already in motion. He would succeed where all previous Hester’s had failed.

He doubted the dragon would approve of his solution.

“You tried to explain trust and friendship to Consensus,” he tapped out through the computer’s artificial voice, returning to the conversation at hand. “Consensus cannot trust you. It can understand trust, but it cannot do it. It will never be your friend. You must control the variables in Calculation. As many as you can. As many as you know. Steer Consensus as the Voice tries to steer you.”
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

The force and energy of Adannaya's exit rather took Zechariah aback. It rather brought him back to his University days... so many centuries had passed since he regularly partook of the company of the young. It were vain to call her back, he knew. "I don't want to send you on an unnecessary witch-hunt in your own organization. I did not breach your security; you triggered mine. I may no longer have a University, but I am still a wizard."

His voice had drawn even lower in tone and pitch; no longer was it simply that of an old dragon. Zechariah spoke as an Elder, with a capital "E." Not all his ancient powers had deserted him; hardly a fraction by the hearing. "I knew where all the remnants of that battle were; I cared not to dig them up again, but I exercised certain magical means of keeping tabs on them. When one became unaccounted for, there was only a short list of suspects. Process of elimination brought it down to one." His voice grew more ordinary, and a smile came into his eyes. "Ninety percent of magic is simply knowing the extra fact. Hm, but I don't think you need be told that."


The dragon's somber expression returned, as the conversation returned to the Song. He leaned over, one claw over the railed edge of the hospital bed, intent on Hester's words. True, technically the words were from the computer, and not the tired larynx of the dying rodent, but old habits yield not so easily. "Chaos... so much in recent times. Yes, Unity is needed now, as it was then."
Things were not so simple once a fur had to put them into practice, however. Zech knew it from having to work with the UN in his day job, and this situation multiplied the diplomatic difficulties one hundred fold. "One of the variables being getting certain furs to trust Consensus, or at least belay suspicion." A humorless smile twisted his face. "How to build trust without promise of mutuality... I could have united the world if I could solve that problem."
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

Hester had no intention of calling Adannaya back. Even assuming the dragon spoke the truth and he wasn’t simply trying to throw him off the trail, the parrot would find something. She always found something, even when that something was not supposed to be there to find. “Adannaya will find something. Always does. Always interesting results.” The only difference now was that he may not live long enough to see them. Adannaya could be very thorough, and a thorough investigation of Shirotractus’ corporate structure could take many months.

Genius could strike anyone at any moment, even a dying rat-jird, during the very conversation calling for its need. It was so obvious. “Maybe convincing is not possible or necessary at first. Maybe you need a common threat to unite them. Common but also imminent. I can serve that purpose. Shirotractus will supply suspicious behavior. You rally them against me while I am still here. Few months. Maybe year. Long enough to get all feet in the door. After that up to you.”
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

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Zechariah did not pursue the subject. It wasn't his multinational corporation that was going to get turned inside-out, although by the time Adannaya finished, Shirotractus would be in the hands of Hester's heirs, or possibly sold off, so it technically wasn't the rat's problem. And there were more important things to worry about.

"A common enemy gambit?" The dragon was slightly skeptical, although rationally it wasn't a less crazy idea than his own of invoking UFOs to explain the sudden appearance of Consensus to the world. And there was another worry, that Hester would use the opportunity of false suspicious behavior to mask one last real scheme. Another problem of trust, that. "There is already, of course, a real common enemy, whom I suppose we may transition to, the alliance once struck. I'd like to plan this in a little more detail, however, just so we don't cross our stories.

"I could go back to both Consensus and Tamas, telling them that your refused to strike a deal, and in fact were mobilizing your resources against them both. I'd like a better reason to give for that than mere senile decay, of course. Perhaps I could pass you off as a pawn of the Song? It would tie together at least one loose end."
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

“Stories? Tell them the truth. You suppressed my early work. You robbed me of career in archeology and anthropology I had wanted. Years of graduate work down the drain. One hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt for nothing. Tell them I refused to deal because I don’t like you. Simple enough to remember.”

“Let me handle the rest. You will not know what I am going to do. It will just happen. Plausible deniability will be your ally. Let them guess at my motives. Motives won’t really matter in the end. My actions will speak louder than your words ever could. Consensus and its old enemies will have no choice but to act. Together.”
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

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There was indeed truth in Hester's characterization of the situation. Enough, in fact, that the veracity, or at least the verisimilitude, of it could not help but strike the dragon. Zech sighed, tapping claws on his knees. "Well, that is workable, I grant you. I will use it."

He considered, briefly, the wisdom of the words he was about to say next. After a moment's thought, he rose to his feet. "I know, Hester, that this will give you an opportunity to do things that I would, under any other circumstances, expend considerable effort and resources to stop. I won't inquire as to what they are, and I will accept responsibility for allowing them to go ahead, in whatever reckoning is laid up for the likes of us. Is there... anything more you want to say to me?" The rodent would get no other opportunity in this life, he knew. Zechariah could hardly guess, of course, what Hester would have left to say to him...
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

“We both get what we want,” he said. “You get your alliance. I get my free hand. Look at it another way. A compromise is an agreement neither side likes. I don’t like helping you. You don’t like what you think I may do. By both definitions this is a good fair compromise.”

Hester closed his eyes then. The immediate impression was of a corpse. His chest did not move because the respirator did not exert a great deal of pressure in his lungs, lest it damage them further. The meeting appeared to be over, but as Zechariah moved towards the door the rodent’s fingers resumed their tapping. “Be careful Zechariah.”

Another long pause. Hester didn’t open his eyes. The lights hurt them. “I am convinced the Voice is not stupid. It knows what you are trying to do.”

“The influence of the Song on a person is weak. But weak influence can move mountains given time. You will be in a position of power in your new alliance. And you have been alive for a very long time."

"Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. Make sure they are your own. Be wary of the so-called gut instinct.” He shifted slightly, pulling the bed’s covers closer around himself. “Be careful.”
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Re: Enemy Mine III (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

It was an old joke, but nonetheless true for all that, that a good compromise left everybody mad. In the midst of his affliction, Hester had kept enough of a grasp on his sense of humor to see this fact, and Zechariah had to acknowledge it. At any rate, the dragon would live long enough to accrue long-term benefits, which was more than one could say of the rodent, though it would have been tactless to do so aloud.

In any case, Hester had more sobering words for him. "Those are wise cautions, but to look too deeply into one's own mental processes is to, in every sense, fall down a rabbit hole into madness. I will, in any case, be mindful, rest assured. Goodnight, Hester."


Zechariah left the room, wondering to himself about the mental state of the rodent he had left. True, it would be erroneous to asset that he had in any way lost his wits or reason, but there was something about him, some haggling doubt of sanity... but was the doubt a warning, or a temptation of the Song?
*Ugh. It's happening to me already.* The dragon's reason tamped down on it. He'd chosen his course, and now he was to inform the rest of his alliance upon it.
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