BioQuest: Not Alone

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“Please. We’ve much to do,” Elizabeth agreed with Booker, turning back to the Bathysphere. When she’d first been in a gunfight with Booker, all that death… It chilled her to the core, nausea nesting in her stomach as she ran from him in Columbia.

She stepped over the corpse of a splicer, as Booker referred to them, continuing on the slightly uneven path. Elizabeth had an appointment in the morning and she didn’t dare be unprepared.

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Booker followed her, their footsteps and a distant dripping taking over the silence between them. Neither of them interrupted the quiet until they stood outside the doors to Tenenbaum’s sanctuary in Olympus Heights, and Booker finally spoke.

“You’re not going alone to see that lunatic artist tomorrow,” Booker stated, his face cast in shadow so she couldn’t make out an expression.

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Her eyes were still adjusting. All she could see was a scarcely noticeable droop to his shoulders and a lean to favor his injured leg.

– – –

What do you want to do, Elizabeth?

Read the next chapter.

– – –

Suggestions from last chapter:


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BioQuest: Return

Read how to join this choose your own adventure story here.
Read the previous chapter.
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A beat passes, Elizabeth bringing her hand to her chin. Another beat. Finally, she releases a breath and shakes her head, trying to clear it. The man was dead. It was over, but… This was not the end.

“Sullivan,” she asked, and he heaved a sigh.

“Still here, miss.” He glowered at the door, arms crossed over his barrel chest as the leaner man continued to fuss with the lock… Sullivan was a cross between fatherly and frightening, she decided. It was no wonder he and Booker got along so swiftly.

Lowering her hand to clasp the other, she took a few steps closer toward the door.

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“What about Booker? Is he…?”

“What, him? Couldn’t be better,” he scoffed a laugh, cracking half a smile. “Once he gets those nosebleeds outta the way, he’s a terror out there. Glad he’s on my side.”

“You too, Sullivan. Now move it, genius,” he ordered, setting his hand on the shoulder of the smaller man at the door.

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“Booker,” she warned, folding her arms. Someday he might be polite if she was there to always remind him…

“I’ve almost got it, sir,” the technician dismissed, shrugging his shoulder out from Booker’s grasp and focusing closer on the lock. With a whisper from the door that almost sounded like relief, it slid open at last.

“Nice one, Milton.” Sullivan patted his shoulder, and this Milton man brightened to a smile. He nodded a tuft of blond hair from his face, the dim light catching in his hazel eyes and the thin scar on his cheek.

“Getting results, not bad.” Booker holstered his gun, heaving a sigh. “You ready to go home, Elizabeth?”

– – –

What do you want to do, Elizabeth?

Read the next chapter.

– – –

Suggestions from last chapter:

20_Return_9


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Where Ages Meet

The carriage ricketed down the path, rocking from side to side not too unlike the boat Oliver left behind a few days ago. Honestly, he should’ve puked up his entire stomach by then. If not from the motion, from the anxiety, if not from those, from the excessive spellcasting and all-nighters, and if not from all of that, from the fact that everyone he met was tired of him already.

“Excuse me, yes, pardon me,” he began, possibly out of desperation for some social aspect to break up the blur of practice and half-sleep, “Hypothetical question for you,” he said through the small window to the carriage driver. Rick was his name, just a dull-eyed teen who didn’t turn or acknowledge him in any fashion.

“If you were heading toward a massive contest, or at least formerly massive, that would earn you possible worldwide renown and a great portion of your material desires for the rest of your life, even if it would put that life in certain danger of an abrupt and humiliating end– Would you still go?” He waited. A jerk of the reins brought the horses on a steady turn and the driver scratched at his stubble.

“Just wondering. Purely hypothetical.”

“…No, sir. I believe I would not.” Ah, he did speak. Truth be told, the mage wished he would speak more. There was a certain rustic eloquence in his flowing tones and raspy voice. It matched his weathered appearance, skinny though he was, draped in rough clothes and leather packs. “But I’ve little use for fame or material things.”

“Really. That is interesting.” Oliver never could tell a convincing lie. Perhaps that was the source of his societal shortcomings and those evident traits that allowed him to become a mage in the first place. “Well now. Thank you, thank you very kindly. That will be all.”

And they didn’t speak again until the sun eased its way down and the moon slid its way up. Rick originally turned the horse onto a path to the miserable village of Kendon. That was before Oliver got him to swear to turn the carriage around, drive through the night no matter the threat, and travel to Aethia, the (waning) magical capital of the world. Rick made some money off the vow.

He woke up not to Rick, like he expected, but to Aethia’s bubbling morning bustle and the accompanying distant bird calls. The ocean was off by a day or so, but the sea birds still graced the city with caws and droppings. Even that early, six or maybe seven in the morning, people moved about the streets and brought the carriage’s pace to a patient amble. Fortunately for them, there were few of the new “automobiles” about…

Still, they made it to the arena at the city’s approximate center before noon and that was all that mattered. Even if that was when the driver got the other half of his payment, Oliver was thrilled to finally arrive, to look at the vaulted stone spires and rows of pointed arch windows.

Oh, to take it all in firsthand… As Rick unloaded the mage’s two carpet bags onto the limestone path and eventually stared at the stout steamer trunk on the rear luggage rack. Oliver was so fixed on the arena, imagining his way through corridors to his assigned and truly unremarkable room (though it would impress him to no end), that it took the carriage boy speaking to get his attention.

“Sir, the trunk.”

“Oh, of course, right,” he corrected himself, joining an unimpressed Rick at the back of the carriage and pulling up his sleeves. “I’ll handle this.”

With a whispered incantation, his eyes closed, he missed Rick’s muted expression of shock and revulsion as the trunk rocked. Sticks of cedar jutted out from its side, the wood cracking in the strain even as the process left no marks in the trunk or the leather straps. Oliver kept his eyes closed, muttering the made-up language while the sticks bent as if they had an elbow, coming out further until they ended in square hands. They had no form, looking like thumbless mittens even as they closed and opened.

It got up on its rangy haunches, shook the new arms and legs as if their stiffness could be fixed that way, and clambered down the side of the carriage to pick up the waiting bags.

“Well, thank you for all your help, kind sir.” Oliver took Rick’s hand in his, shaking it and leaving a small sack of money in the driver’s palm. “I expect my gratitude will cover your homeward expenses.”

“Sure,” he said, seeming a little concerned about something. It had to be one of their mental states. But he put the sack in his pocket and returned to the carriage led by the chestnut horse with stunted ears and eerily large eyes. Riding inside the whole time, the mage didn’t notice until now just how unsettling they were.

The two turned their separate ways and that brought Oliver to the arena’s gate, guarded by security officials in navy blue uniforms with glinting silver trims almost outshone by the spotless black of their shoes and for some, the badges on their uniforms. Naturally, only two of the ten officials would talk to him.

He went through unsurprising questions without much trouble. What sort of mage are you? How long have you been practicing? Have you ever been detained or arrested by the Mages’ Council for any purpose? Passing that test, they moved on to the practical portion of the exam. Cast any spell for us, okay, that’s great, now use another to unlock this chest no wider than a tankard and get your Trialist Charm. Great, you did that, now…

“Where’s your aide?”

“Hm?” Oliver looked up at the stern woman’s face, finally over the scar at her left jaw line and not staring at it instead of her eyes anymore. His new fixation had been on the opalesque gem in the center of the stone charm. He was in the middle of wondering if everything at the arena was made of stone when she interrupted him. “Excuse me?”

“Your aide. Where are they?” Aide. Aide. Why hadn’t he heard of this before? Oh no, not good… They were starting to question his hesitation.

“Oh, my aide, you meant them. Well, they’re off looking after the horse. Chestnut, a real dear. Well, no, she’s a horse, but…” He trailed off and sensed that they had lost their patience. “I’ll go and get him, she’ll be alright.”

He didn’t even ask if he could join without an aide since he already had the Trialist Charm and all. He just left the trunk behind to wait, running past the landscaped woods towards central Aethia. If he could find Rick at the stables, if any remained, offer him yet more money, which he was running out of, and convince him to be his aide, learn some magic… Well, that shouldn’t be hard. Wasn’t that everyone’s dream?

Panting, Oliver stopped in the first motel he came across and began the search. He wouldn’t leave the city that day because he hadn’t slept the night before, which left that night and the next morning to find him. “Excuse me, pardon, if it’s not too much trouble,” he paused for a gasp of air, “Did a young man come in here named Rick? To stay the night?”

They said no in that place and demanded to know who was asking in the second one, assuring that he wasn’t there mostly because Oliver didn’t want to argue. So the hunt went until the fourth place of lodging, where the staunch doorman told him what he so wanted to hear. If the horse and carriage outside weren’t obvious clues. “Yeah, a few hours ago. A real lanky thing he was. Looked like he hadn’t slept in a day.”

“Oh, that’s him,” Oliver sighed, daring to smile now that he had the news he wanted. “Which room is he in?”

He got a leery look, a once-over to see if maybe he looked the sort who would kill someone in their rented room and cause a huge mess for the owner. Another few coins lost, but the room’s location gained, he went upstairs to the third door on the left and banged an open hand on the door.

“Rick, open up,” he called, staring down at the knob and forcing himself to not go in anyway. “I have another favor that needs doing. I wouldn’t trust anyone else with it, of course, so I came to give you the first chance. Extra money, Rick, I can promise you that if you’ll help out with this one favor.”

Oliver jumped at the thump inside the room, maybe something slamming against the wall or onto the floor. He waited, biting his lip and biding his time. “Rick,” he ventured after a few seconds without another sound. “How is everything in there? Are you alright?” Soft rhythmic creaks got louder and then the door opened just a crack. Rick looked worse now than before, a lot worse.

“What is it.” Eyes half shut and the look on his face just begging Oliver to give him a reason to punch the mage, Rick wasn’t in any mood for politeness and Oliver wasn’t crazy enough to demand it.

“Can I come in and talk?”

“No.”

Well then. Alright, Oliver could work with that. Running both hands through his hair, taking a deep breath, he started up with his explanation.

“Remember that probably massive contest?” And his future aide’s eyes shut even more. He lost some ground there, granted, but it would be won back as soon as he got to tell the story. “Well, to be in it for real, I need an aide.”

“I’m not it.”

“Hey, hear me out,” he bargained, stopping the door with his hand only because Rick didn’t slam his hand in it. If he really wanted to, he could. Being a carriage driver made him a lot stronger. “There’s a lot in it for you, Rick, I promise. I’ll pay you twice what you made as a driver,” Oliver said, counting the benefits on one hand and watching the driver’s interest pique as his eyes almost nearly opened.

“I thought magic was dying off,” he answered, but he was swaying, Oliver could just feel it. Or perhaps that was the numb, light feeling of lacking oxygen.

“And isn’t carriage driving? Look, I’ll teach you magic, and that in itself is an experience to behold. Plus, you can stay at the arena with me and a ton of other mages and their aides, and the Council will take care everyone completely free of charge! What do you say?”

And then there was the wait. He kind of hated looking at Rick leaning against the doorframe, thinking, wondering if this was worth it. When that smirk finally came, it brought a flood of relief with it and Oliver smiled back. Wasn’t often that both of them felt happy for the same reason.

“Alright, Mr. Oliver,” he agreed and held out his hand that wasn’t on the doorknob of his side of the door. “You’ve got a deal.”


© 2017 Jam Blute, All Rights Reserved.

Balder Holt

Balder 2012 [Seabby]
Art by Seabby
See his stories: New Beginnings (AU) ♦ Your Memories
To see more content like this regularly, please support me on Patreon.

Background

He doesn’t remember much. It’s as if his life was a story he read a long time ago, so long that he only recalled it in dreamlike segments. His first bike ride, a family vacation or two… The memories were but blurs to work around. Yet the one that always returned with aching clarity was his arrival at the facility.

It was late spring, warm. Finals were just ending at school. He didn’t have any on the last few days, unlike his classmates. It was one of the reasons that he got a summer job sorting files at some cryogenics place. Not particularly interesting work, but at least he didn’t have to worry about offending the customers. And so he indulged in his curiosity.

It was while passing by a room where the bodies were kept that Balder stopped to test the door. He was in no hurry and it was unlocked. That’s how he found out that the chilled crypt was dark, despite his expectation of sharp, sterile lights. His hand crept along the cold wall, images of frozen heads gracing his thoughts, until he found a switch and flipped it.

He found nothing so mundane as a frozen head. Balder discovered the preserved remains of failed experiments, gruesome and nightmarish, no longer human in any sense of the word. The folder fell to the floor as he turned to run. Faster than he ever had in his life, an attempt to put what must be a lie behind him, and he very nearly made it.

If not for his false co-workers, he would have. They had greater strength, better speed, and a handful of other powers that he had no hope against. From start to finish – when he was turned in to Leader, when it was decided that he would be a subject, when he went on the table, right up until he began training to better understand how to destroy – Balder didn’t stand a chance.

Beaten psychologically to hide all emotions, obey every order, and show no mercy, he was secretly desperate to please anyone by the time he was to be trained… He was fifteen then, but he acted as if he were years behind.

His memories now are of learning how to control his powers. The fights against dummies, other young experiments, failed experiments, the resulting injuries healed by Yua back when she was practicing, and the brief moments with Leader where he dreaded repercussions and beamed inwardly at praise. His first assignment took place when he was sixteen, with a couple of scientists and their children as his marks.

They were dealt with in cold, brutal efficiency. And whatever his life was before, it was derailed. It slipped from his memory, allowing him to become someone else entirely. He was Balder Holt in name only and regardless of his wishes, he belonged to Leader.

Personality

At a quick glance, Balder is the perfect image of a hitman. When he’s not following orders, he’s waiting on the next command – one he will carry out with ruthless proficiency. Even when in the presence of other experiments, he is quietly watchful. No one is truly an ally, save for his leader. What more could one want from a murderer?

But upon a closer look, one will notice that something is off with his heartless facade. Whether it be a volatile outburst of rage or a hesitant, naive moment, Balder cannot always keep his thoughts and feelings in check. When he is alone, he cautiously indulges in them, but in front of others… He does everything he can to stay in control and still doesn’t always succeed. In his eyes, it’s a vulnerability to show emotion before someone he is not about to kill.

Strangely, his victims are the people he trusts most, the ones he knows very well. He knows their habits, their friends and family, their history, and exactly what they will do when he tries to kill them. This is what makes up the bulk of his social life. Needless to say, he has a bit of a time interacting normally. At 20, he is just starting to understand what a joke is. In a few years, he may know how to respond to one.

Appearance

Although he’s a far cry from a tall, dashing hero, Balder does look like one – only shorter. He’s barely average height with a sturdy, toned build. Capable of strength and maneuverability, the former more so than the latter. Despite the advanced technology, he still has two dot-shaped scars from the nanotech injection sites: one above each high point in his tailbone. That and some jagged scarring along his left ribcage.

His brown eyes are deeply emotive, screaming what his expressions whisper. Fortunately for him, they’re rarely seen behind the sunglasses he wears routinely. His clothing, more like a uniform, reflects these glasses in being entirely dark. Aside for the dark blue zippered jacket, he wears entirely black from the double holster to his cargo pants.

Abilities

The nanotech he has allows him to destroy things on a microscopic level. Hands-on contact is required with whatever it is he’s trying to destroy. Depending on the type and amount of material, this can be done in a few seconds or in half a minute. Whether it be a vehicle or the human body he’s attacking, it rarely takes more than that to put an end to his target.

Weaknesses

He has no tolerance for them. If something unexpected does come up, he typically reacts with excessive violence. He doesn’t think about doing it or not, Balder instinctively eliminates whatever doesn’t fit into the plan set out before him. After these flare-ups pass, he knows he has done something that he shouldn’t. As much as he would like to believe that he will stop himself next time, he is never quite sure he will. Or if he even can.

Place of Residence

His assigned room in the lab. A single bed and a closet with sliding doors. The bureau has nothing on it except for when he sleeps. That’s where he puts the sunglasses at night. But beneath the bed, against the back wall, there’s a shoe box. Inside are his mementos, the old lollipop sticks and pictures from photo booths and dusty knickknacks of the people he’s killed.

 

Relationships:

Yua Maki –

Because of his assigned job, he sees this natural healer on a regular basis. This is both a blessing and a curse because Balder is thoroughly in love with her. She gives him hope, a reason to believe that he can be a better person, and lastly, the distant belief that destruction is not the only thing he’s good for.

 

Other Information:

Race: Human, American (Experiment)
Age: 20
Gender: Male
Orientation: Straight
Handedness: Ambidextrous
Occupation: Hitman
Height / Build: Barely average height; sturdy, toned
Weapon: Glock 22, dagger
Beliefs: Efficiency is a reward.
Goals: …He may have had these at one time.
Likes: Raspberries, bats, empty beaches (particularly the garbage left behind)
Dislikes: Coffee, harsh light, storms
Fears: Having his emotions read, being incomplete
Strengths: Persistence, focus, devotion
Abilities
Nanotech: He can destroy people and items on a molecular level. Hands on contact is required.
Faults: His intolerance for his own faults, a nasty temper
Skills: On the fly tactics, combat training, cooking
Habits: Collecting mementos of his victims’ lives, walking aimlessly when he has no assignments to complete, watching people, standing at the fringe of groups, going about his activities in silence
Items in Pocket: A mint, wallet with a single card, switchblade, a picture of an unknown family
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© Jam Blute, 2009