December 21, 1992
It’s the beginning of the Christmas workweek. Any other year, the Scripps Tower Construct would be lifeless, fewer and fewer Technocrats working with each consecutive day except the least senior and most dedicated (or least Christian). It makes as much sense as having less doctors and Progenitors on call on nights and weekends, but it is the way of the 9-5.
But not today. The building hums and bustles. The Juncture has begun, and teams are either leaving, in place, or preparing to go out. Still, Lacey Norton finds time for a little bit of flirtation, sliding her butt onto Ben‘s desk. “Hey.” She says to him. "Want to get together tonight? If we’re not dead." She slides off his desk like he better not think about it too long. She likes her assholes but there’s always more of them.
“Ugh.” Thomas Way makes a sound of frustration and disgust to his teammate, Siera Love. Thomas is the final member of Xifeng’s QH-97 cabal. He was added after Joshua froze Kouamé and others in time, and management realized she might need someone who could help her with a R&E fix to those sort of problems… as a quarter-time employee. The Q-Division spends 10 hours a week (sometimes more in a bad week) helping QH-97 with their Marauder problems, and the other 30 with other amalgams, because management can’t resist an occasional slap in the face. Today, he’s all theirs though.
“Can you believe that?” Thomas asks his teammate obliviously. “Why do girls never pick nice guys? Bickley doesn’t even LIKE Unenlightened women.”
It’s not like asses just appear on his desk on the daily. Ben looks from his computer screen to Siera, her invitation leaving him visibly confounded. “Not really…” He calls after her as she saunters away. He’s oblivious to Thomas’s whining over there, and anyway, he’s busy running numbers.
Siera rolls her eyes. “I guess the actual problem is you can’t find a nice guy at work,” she replies blandly.
This is probably not the first time Lacey has offered to (or has slept with) Ben. But considering that she completely lost interest after the last time, it’s not strange for him to be a bit confounded. It’s not as if he did anything to trigger any change there.
Thomas frowns, expecting sympathy and commiseration, not the response he got. He respects Unenlightened personnel. There’s no reason—
Later, neither one of them would be sure which saw him first. The teenage boy walking across the ordered chaos of the construct office. Neither Siera nor Thomas has met Jahan Meshadi before in their life, but they’ve seen his face enough so as to recognize him as well as a member of their own family. Their eyes flick to each other’s face, and instantly the drama of the workplace is put away. There is a reason they were selected for QH-97, above and beyond being individually competent. Neither one is armed—they are still minutes from suiting up and leaving—but they are minutes from armaments. Either is suitable to go intervene and delay Meshadi, but Siera’s weapons are much closer.
Thomas begins walking to intercept the Marauder.
Jahan moves quickly through the ant’s nest. They’re beginning to look at him now. “Hi Ben,” He says, stopping in front of the Technocrat’s desk."
Ben has worked in an office environment for long enough now to detect a change in the social atmosphere, no matter how socially inept he himself may be. He glances up again at the little buzz of uncertainty that accompanies Jahan’s arrival, then scans the room for the source of their unease.
His eyes fall on the boy approaching his desk and his brows knit together in surprise. Ben’s fingers don’t leave his keyboard, the closest thing an Iterator of his expertise might use for a weapon, but he’s gone visibly pale. He’s no field agent. “Hey Jahan. What can I do for you?”
Before Jahan can answer, Thomas strides up, an oblivious smile on his face. “Hey, can I help you?” Unlike the other Technocrats, there’s no uncertainty or suspicion in his features. “Are you looking for your mom? You really shouldn’t be wandering around on your own up here.”
Jahan buys it—so few people treat him like a person now. “It’s ok. I know Ben.” He says deliberately, trying to lose the busybody. “He’ll take me to her.”
Buying time or not, Thomas still doesn’t want to aggravate the Marauder. “Ben looks busy.” He shoots a sympathetic smile. “Maybe I can help. Who’s your mom?”
Uh. “Tamara Marshall.” He’s done with this. Ben, he looks back at the Technocrat. Siera is visible powerwalking back around the corner. “Ben, come with me.”
The world shifts sickeningly. Ben is suddenly in somebody’s basement. It’s poorly lit. The walls definitely have mold. The stairs and bookshelves are made of wood. The books are a combination of fitness, porn, and sci-fi. In the middle of the room is a commandeered pool table covered with a cloth.
And lying on that cloth, covered with another cloth, is Cadence, still and lifeless.
Ben darts a grateful glance at Thomas. That’s right big guns, carry your weight.
“Wait-” he begins, planting his hands on his desk and rising to his feet as the room swims. Of course, on the other side there’s no desk – he stumbles forward, windmilling his arms as he recovers his balance.
Turning, Ben hardly notices details like the stairs and the decor, though the smell of mold is impossible to ignore. No, the first thing he registers is the fact that there’s a dead body on the table. This is above his pay grade. For a moment, the identity of the body eludes him, and all he can think about is how to avoid joining it.
“Ah man Jahan, what did you do?” he asks with unfeigned worry, approaching the pool table. Two steps and he stops as Cadence’s face swims into focus. His breath catches in his throat. “Cadey… Jahan, why do-… what is this- /she/ doing… here…”
“I’m bringing her back.” Jahan says, sounding a little wounded. “I need your memories to do it. Don’t your miss her?”
Ben looks quickly between them. “Yeah. Jahan, yeah, of course I miss her. Every day. But this isn’t…” He pinches the bridge of his nose, backing away from the table. “Your friend sent me an email,” he says desperately. There’s nothing he wants to see less right now than whatever Jahan is about to try to do to animate his dead lover’s body. “”/characters/will-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>Harrison. She’s already with them, he says she’s haunting that fucking vampire piece of shit… You don’t need my memories to talk to her again."
Jahan frowns. “A spirit is no substitute for a family. If you’d ever been a ”/wikis/dreamspeakers" class=“wiki-page-link”> Dreamspeaker you’d understand that."
He flexes his fingers, regarding him as something not quite Ben. It’s a bit of the way Joshua looks at people, the way that Ben loses some aspect of personhood in his eyes. “I was afraid you might not understand.” He has a plan though.
He advances on the Technocrat, one step, and then two. And then he rolls his mind.
Ben is still a Technocrat, but he rapidly experiences an alignment and agenda shift. His first priority is to Jahan and Cadence, now.
Ben blinks once, backing away. And then he blinks again, stopping in place. Somewhere, vaguely, he’s still hyper-aware of the power dynamics here – he wants to help Jahan but he’s still mildly fearful of something far more powerful than him. His eyes slide by the boy to Cadence’s body, and he swallows thickly. He /does/ want to see her again.
“No, I do get that,” he says quietly. “But Cadence is a lot more than just my memories of her. She was different things to different people. You aren’t gonna get Cadence this way, just a little piece of her. Wouldn’t it be better to use her own memories?”
Jahan stares for a moment, disliking the answer he’s getting till he really gets it. The fear isn’t good—he adjusts it so that Ben can feel comfortable with him while still retaining his creativity and personality.
“They’ll be at the moment of her death. I know how we can do this.” He disappears.
He’s vaguely aware that elsewhere, Will is probably in the chantry. But he wants Jacob. Opening his coffin, he teleports them back.
Jacob staggers, bleeding from his nose, his ears. “What— What’s going—” Shit.
Jacob and Cadence have abruptly found themselves in a basement with Jahan and Ben.
It’s also nice that he’s no longer worried about some kind of magical Marauder lobotomy. Ben drifts back over to stand by the pool table in the few minutes Jahan is away.
He turns back at the sound of Jacob’s voice. A familiar, slow burning rage glimmers to life inside of him at the sight of the vampire who killed Cadence. But he doesn’t know enough at all about Dimensional Science to know what would happen if they eliminated the being she’s haunting. “Is she here?”
“Jesus fucking Christ.” Cadence was enjoying a ghostly cigarette in the relative peace of the morning – the cabal has been making their preparations but no one pesters her while Jacob is sleeping. “Is that my body? Jahan, what the hell?”
Jahan looks like he just got a bonus. "I didn’t know bringing Jacob would bring you. This is even easier. " Copying the resonance of the moment of Cadence’s death, from Jacob’s memories, would be like making a copy of casette made of an audio recording. This is more like copying one vhs tape to another, or just putting one soul into an empty body.
“We’re bringing you back Cadence. I’m bringing you back.” Jahan extends his hands.
“We’re not alone.” Jacob says. Cadence is a bit distracted but Jacob can see there are spirits waiting on the edges. “This isn’t safe, for her.”
“I don’t want to come back like that, Jahan,” Cadence says bluntly. “What did you do to get Ben to go along with this?” She waves a hand in front of Ben’s face, but of course he can’t see her.
Ben is actually watching Jacob still, his hands clenched so hard at his sides that his knuckles are white. “Shut up. All you ever do is lie. He’s probably just making it up, Jahan.”
Jahan ignores them. He pushes Cadence toward her new body.
Cadence shouldn’t have the ability to reject his designs. She’s just a wraith. He’s a spirit mage and a Marauder. But Cadence manages.
Another spirit takes the opportunity to jump into Cadence’s body. She sits up. Between her power and Jahan’s Marauder effect, both Ben and Jahan will believe everything about her is Cadence because everything she will present to them is everything that they want her to be. “Hello boys. I need a cigarette.”
Cadence can feel Jahan’s power clawing at her, a slow inexorable tug towards the body on the table, and it’s all she can do to grit her teeth and dig in and push back. “Jacob-” she calls out desperately, as if the vampire could do anything here.
In the span of a heartbeat (if she had a heartbeat) another spirit takes the place intended for her. Her face freezes in shock. “That isn’t me.”
A sensation like a static shock ripples over Jacob’s skin. He’s back in his room in the chantry. Will stands near his open coffin, clutching his handheld tightly as he watches the screen flicker – simultaneously informing him that its quintessence battery has recharged and the statistical likelihood of a debugging has risen. “Are you okay? What’s going on?”
Cadence has followed him – with Jahan no longer focused on her, she snaps back to Jacob’s side like a rubber band. “That wasn’t me,” she says again, insistently.