Song of the Earth

The Emptiness

For all her age, Fríða seems the less exhausted of the three of them. These last 11 weeks on Earth haven’t been easy, but she hasn’t been through what the Avengers have as recently as they have. Besides, the Master just seems too otherworldly, too spiritually pure for something as earthly as fatigue.

She requests to sleep in the spare bed in the Sanctum—Davey‘s old bed—so she can familiarize herself with the Resonance of the place before they work. America detects low-level Prime magick from her much of the night, but has trouble figuring out what she’s doing. She’s literally never come across readings like the sort the Prime Master is giving.

While America readies herself, Fríða tells her a bit about her beliefs—something Will already heard. She is a Nashimite of the Chorus. They believe that God’s Will is made up of the collective consensus of humanity—thus as humanity falls so too does God. Nashimites work—worked to uplift humanity, to ensure that the One is pure and good. “With the planet in such disarray, and God’s children cannibalizing each other and fighting over water, things become even worse for us, who work through Prime and the One.”

She’ll listen to America’s thoughts on magick, not simply humoring her but trying to understand how they’ll work together. Once Will arrives they can have a discussion—Fríða needs to access and read the Resonances of the known homonculi, which will require some Correspondence. America should be able to read it when she replicates it, but she’s not sure how Will is going to receive the information in any useful fashion.

“I could make you feel it, but how are you going to quantify a feeling?”

After a short awkward call with Dylan Harrison to update him on their destination and say hi, America heads down to her home, recently truncated. She’s certainly not alone in the basement, with the trio of vampires taking up residence in the crawlspace and Fríða taking Davey’s bed, but it doesn’t phase her, she barely notices as she strips down on her way to the shower, gets in, and remains there until hot water is no more. In that small space, she washes herself and then slumps down to the floor, sobbing madly.

Eleanor. Davey. James. Sparticus. Jahan. It all crashes down on her and she cries herself to sleep slumped in the shower. When she does awake several hours later, as slump sleeping in a shower stall is not ergonomic, America steps out of the shower and heads to the small sink and mirror, staring at herself, adorned in bruises and dark under eyes. She is calmer now, after her outburst, but muted and just generally sad. Taking scissors, she makes careful cuts to her hair, letting long locks of her much loved length fall away. It isn’t a total hair cut, its just creating chaos where once was immaculate order.

She turns and stares naked at the vampires, at Kouame who died because of her, and then retrieves clothes and sleeps for real.

When she wakes, Fríða regales her with her beliefs. America actually seems to understand. She’s a long way from the orphan mage she had been. Davey had been a good teacher, and a good friend. A brother in Ether.

“Yeah, that’s the juice, as Davey called it,” she replies in acknowledgement of the sphere of prime. “Metaphysical ether. It is as quantifiable as atoms, light, and sound.”

She stands up from her cot and heads to the work bench, retrieving her prime detector. She holds it up and points at the read out. The device resembles a Geiger counter. She taps the read out portion and hands it to the old woman. The needle bounces happily in Fríða’s hands. “This is more of a yes or no sort of detector. Either there’s juice or there ain’t.”

America smiles watching the detector work and gives Fríða a grin.

Will got Linda and Jianyu settled in with Gabe, giving the Dreamspeaker a quick tour of his trinary computer. Linda should be able to connect her handheld to it to borrow some of its processing power, and she’s also welcome to the extra bits and pieces of things he keeps in totes on a shelf. And then, with them working in the same room, he just collapses onto his own bed for a much-needed rest of his own. He’s hardly slept in the past two days.

He’s in clean clothes when he appears in the door to the lab, partway through Fríða’s explanation. He takes a seat off to one side, checking over his handheld and looking around at the Etherite trappings in here while the Chorister gets acquainted with America. Once they start actually talking about working together though, he pipes up on America’s heels. “Feelings are quantifiable too, with the right technology. But that’s just it, I think technology is the key. You can’t necessarily teach us to use your spheres the way you do, but mundane technology is something anyone can learn to use.” Which is why the Adepts, with maybe some credit to the Etherites, have the Ascension War on lock, he doesn’t add.

“I was hoping maybe America could find a way to help you channel that Prime into a form we can read. Like a souped-up version of that Geiger counter thing. It’s just numbers. There must be a frequency or something. And then I should be able to boost it, to give it enough range to find that frequency from far away.”

Fríða takes the device in her hand, and begins to hum. Neither teenager recognizes the tune, but it’s clearly not just random sounds, and the sound of it causes them to sway unconsciously with the compelling rhythm. The Chorister reaches out with her fingers, a light emanating off the tips of her index and middle fingers. The light coalesces into a flame, barely larger than a candle, hovering above the table, steady and strong.

The needle moves. She smiles. “But we need more than just a yes or no. There are Sleepers who could feel that. But Forces feels different from Prime. And the song of a Chorister, different from the delightful technomancy of a Daughter of Ether.” Taking her hand that once held fire, she reaches out and brings her palm against Will’s cheek, making eye contact. There’s nothing about it that makes him want to pull away—he’s sure he shouldn’t like it, but nothing about this woman sets off his discomfort.

On the contrary. She touches him, and it’s like his eyes are open to the world—or his ears. All around him he can hear humming, music, a chorus of the voices of the universe. A voice for fire and a voice for Prime—a voice for the active magical devices that America has lying around the lab. And… something else, resonating from their bodies, from their voices. Placing down the device, she reaches with her other hand to touch America. They feel a strange sort of unity between them—all mages, all allies, all perceiving magick as she perceives it.

She withdraws her hands, and the voices fade into silence, sweetly. “Any novice of Prime can allow others to perceive it. As you have done with this device. But I need to convey more information for you, to get to Will. Can you adjust it to do that?” America may have noticed that while her geiger counter detected the magick used to make the flame, it did not detect what she did to share her perceptions with them.

The Daughter of Ether is smiling large, alternating her glances between Fríða and Will. She’s not had that much opportunity to explore Prime. Davey taught her initially but with all that had happened, they didn’t get to continue experiments.

She purses her lips and reaches behind her to pull her hair back into a ponytail. After her haircut, it isn’t the pristine ponytail that she had before, some escapes and hangs at the side of her face.

America hums thoughtfully and hops into her rolling stool, sliding towards a work bench for some parts and then sliding back to Fríða with a smile. “Yeah. I mean what this detector is doing is picking up a specific resonance of the juice. It is the widest ban, which gives a general sense of juice yes or juice no, but there’s a whole spectrum that this was never designed to pick up,” she explains with excitement.

“I’ll build a new detector that isn’t hard-wired for any specific resonance. It will tell us when it picks the juice up, and figure out which frequency we’re dealing with. Will, you have a monitor or something laying around? You could get your read outs from the new detector.”

A Technomancer without even a Technomancer’s grasp of Prime, Will wouldn’t be able to put what he sees-hears-feels into words, sharing Fríða’s perception. When she lets go, he almost seems dismayed, as the gulf of understanding between them is suddenly made very, very real.

It’s only when America pulls her hair back that he vaguely realizes she’s done something to it, but he’s not going to interrupt her to ask about it while she’s clearly on a roll. “Yeah, I have lots of extra parts upstairs. I’ll go grab some stuff. The other thing we have to think about is how Fríða is going to input the frequency we’re looking for. Unless maybe you can figure that out based on what we just saw?” he adds, uncertainly.

Fríða considers America’s answer. “Some of it I think is inexperience. If you were a mystic I would have more to say, but the technomancers I have known have tinkered with their toys over their lifetimes. You will likely figure out how to make more sensitive equipment over time.” She brushes America’s apparatus with her thumb. “There are ways to hide your magick, sometimes just by using as little as possible, but neither the hiding nor the perceiving is infallible, even for someone like me.” She talks distractedly. Ultimately the sensitivity of America’s equipment isn’t the issue, it’s the level of detail.

“If America’s artifice is set to read resonance then I can just project the resonance I felt before, exactly. She’ll pick it up and read it as if she were reading ”/characters/johann-erdo-an" class=“wiki-content-link”>Johann in person. Then it’s up to you two to track that pattern. But—" She circles back around to her first real hitch. “Can you share with me ”/characters/katerina-kate-vasilyeva" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kate’s resonance?" She asks the Etherite. “We need at least two for a pattern. Preferably more.”

At the mention of setting the device to read a specific resonance, America nods, picks up the device, and slides over on her stool to the nearest workbench. She sets to work on the changes while Fríða and Will discuss isolating the resonances.

“I have recordings of her, if that’d help recreate it.” Will is spitballing. He doesn’t know what America or Fríða would need to get a read on Kate’s resonance. “Unless you got a read on her somehow when we were all at her place, America. Umm. She did some work on the crawlspace before, although I undid it. I’m not sure if traces would linger there, or if the log from my handheld explaining what she did would be useful. When she worked with spheres I’m familiar with, I was usually able to recognize her work.” It wasn’t about resonance so much as recognizing a person’s style when you read something they wrote. Everything was just code. “If either of you think that stuff would help, I’ll bring what I’ve got back with my spare parts.” He waits for an answer, but then he’ll head back upstairs to raid his stash.

“Recordings aren’t going to help. Anything with her magick is.” They’ve unfortunately purged most things. “But it’s worth a try to get anything you have.”

America, however, countered her magick at her lair. The equipment she has with her has data she can access to retrieve her resonance. Fríða waits while the kids pick up what they need.

Once America comes back with the right equipment, the Icelander suggests, “Now, can you feed a replica of the data you got from Kate back out and pick it up with your own equipment? It’s a bit… cyclical but you’re the only one who can verify it’s accuracy.”

America nods and stands up, walking over to her bed to retrieve one of her gauntlets. She opens up a panel along the bracer section and withdraws what looks to be a lightbulb sort of thing, a vial with sparkles inside of it with several diodes. She extends it to Fríða for examination.

“This is the countermeasure I used on Kate on New Year’s eve,” she says, wincing at the memory of the day the world cracked open.

Will returns with an open tote, setting it down near America’s workbench. He pulls out a CRT monitor and sets it beside her work in progress. There’s a tangle of wires and computer parts remaining, in case they need them, but he’ll wait to see what she comes up with before figuring out how he’s going to hook his stuff up to it.

He may have contributed to Kate’s fate in the Digital Web with his own two hands, but everything related to his mentor is still fresh and raw to Will. He’s silent as the two of them figure out this next step, stooping beside his bin of stuff to coil up some of the cables.

Fríða handles the device like an alien thing—respectfully, almost with the kind of reverence one reserves for the holy artifacts of another’s faith, but without understanding it.

“Can you reproduce the… Feed from that night? What it captured or did? I can work from there.”

America wrinkles her nose at the notion and then shrugs, “Sure, but you two might want to stand back. This is going to get, sparkly.”

She replaces the device into her gauntlet and after a few taps and the twist of a dial, the log of recent use kicks in and the gauntlet bracer erupts in a display of fireworks. Brilliant sparkling energy shimmers in the air, causing a distraction for the eyes.

“This was the juice last used against Kate,” the Daughter of Ether says over the pops and fizzles of the countermeasure device. “If there’s a metaphysical etheric echo, it’ll be now.”

“Take a step away?” The Icelander asks with confusion. “Why would—”

She’s started for a moment by the fireworks, but quickly catches the resonance in her throat, humming the vibration back out. She gestures for America to cut off the fireworks if she’s satisfied with the resonance, so America can make sure that she’s replicating the proper result.

After that happens, her voice raises higher in pitch, going from a hum to a wordless song, an Aaaaa-aaaaa-aaaaah that would not be out of place in a church.

America’s equipment picks up on the overlap of two distinct resonances played together. There’s something strange about the reading, she thinks, but she’s never tried to read something like this before.

Quickly, America marks down the isolated resonance readings and then makes a 50/50 guess and picks one for the device to dial in on.

“Is this the one? " she says to Fríða.

Fríða just gives America an alien look until her Ethertech actually produces the resonance for her to read. “That’s right,” She says. “That’s the overlap. And if we expand on that and take out the rest…” She touches her heart, closing her eyes and exhaling. She doesn’t even need to sing again, the full resonance is just there. America can use this.

The Master frowns a little. “There’s something strange about this. May I share my experience with you?” She didn’t ask before, but there’s a world of difference between allowing someone to experience your perception of the world and putting what’s potentially the resonance of an evil Archmage into them, even if America is already interfacing with it technologically.

Will, who has been leaning on the workbench and placidly watching the goings-on, nods his consent. He may as well have as much information as possible before they start boosting this all over the world.

The Daughter of Ether agrees as well, tweaking settings on the machine. "There’s a dissonance or something. What are you picking up? "

No sooner than America has consented than she experiences it too, though for Will she has to physically touch him. America gets the same strangeness that Fríða feels without much context, almost a sort of emptiness. It’s foreign to her.

But not Will. He knows this. He’s felt this way before. Inside the Network, when he and Kate and Jianyu entered via the Digital Web, via Kate’s code, while Linda stood watch. When he couldn’t remember his name, his identity. The whole time he thought it was an effect of the Network… but it was Kate.

Would he have figured this out if he’d ever learned Prime? The certainty will fade after Fríða releases him, but at this moment, he knows Kate is hollow. Empty. She is nothing, an emptiness where a personhood should be, a hollow for Kal to reach through.

The revelation passes, and Fríða withdraws the perceptions.

A lot happened while he, Kate, and Jahan were in the Network. Will hasn’t reflected upon that memory in some time. Two failed Seekings. Jahan’s conversion to the Adepts. He’s paler than usual when Fríða draws away, as he recalls as clear as yesterday how connected he felt to both Kate and Jahan there: his mentor and his best friend, wading through a network built on Correspondence as thick as fog. Now one of them is dead, and the other… He understands more than ever what his Mentor really is, what she always was. It’s not enough to soften her betrayal. If anything, he’s only angrier with himself for not realizing it sooner.

“Kate and I went into the Network together,” he explains quietly. “Via the Digital Web. I felt that there, too, and she explained it away as something the Network was doing. I mean- we all forgot our names, and stuff like that, and she said it was probably because the Network had to, like, homogenize everything in order to encompass it all. All of North America. It made sense at the time, but I guess she lied about that too.” Will looks down, turning a wound VGA cable through his hands, and then tosses it into his bin of things with a little more force than is required. “That’s the right resonance, I guess.”

America watches Will while her own thoughts spin. “So Kate was hollow. Was Johann?” She asks, trying to find the commonality. "What about the second resonance? Who is that? "

America switches the machine to the second stored metaphysical etheric frequency and then looks to Fríða and Will.

The resonance Fríða is sharing is the overlap between Kate and Johann. Looking at Johann is just a normal mage’s resonance… except now America can tell he has that hollowness too.“”/characters/ursula" class=“wiki-content-link”>Ursula might be able to confirm this against the people she knows," The Icelander suggests.

“Now the difficult part,” She says to America. “How are you conveying this to Will so he can look for others?”

The translation will be the challenge. Will can’t make a lot of sense of the readouts on America’s detector, and America can’t write code. “I’ve got the peripherals I need to interact with the Prime detector.” There’s a keyboard sticking out of that tote too, in addition to the monitor sitting on the workbench. “So we need a way to hook it up, first of all. I’m not sure yet if the raw data will be something I can interpret or not, but maybe we should just start with getting it onto the screen, and then we can refine it. I can hack something together in place of the machine code with Correspondence, but I need some way to plug the monitor in in the first place.” The Virtual Adept gestures at America’s detector. “These cables are all VGA, but we could splice them with something different if we need to.”

America thinks on it, drumming her fingers against the device. She runs her hands along its surfaces and looks up, then down, then looks to Will’s tote box of cables. “You connect to the Virtual Web through the phone lines, right?,” she asks, turning to face the Virtual Adept with a smile. “We’ll send the information through from the machine to the read out the same way a telephone works. If we can convert the resonance into electrical current, we could send it through your computer the same way you’d log onto the Web.”

“I don’t think you’ll be able to interpret it without a working knowledge of Prime,” Fríða begins. “But Correspondence is just information. You should be able to send it out to those who can.”

“No,” Will says patiently, “we connect to the Web using Correspondence. You’re thinking of the Internet. I mean, they intersect in some places.” Catching himself before he goes off on a tangent, he backs up and adds, “But I know what you mean. We could use a phone line to get it to my computer. I was kind of thinking on using one to send the signal back out, anyway, so we can track these assholes down.”

He nods at Fríða – he’d kind of assumed that would be the case. “Linda and Jianyu are still using my desktop upstairs, but my handheld is trinary. It should be able to handle this.” Kneeling behind his bin of bits and pieces, he plugs a little box into a port on his handheld. It looks like an adapter, giving him a variety of places to plug in different kinds of cables. “There are a few extra RJ11s in the box, if you want to get your detector wired to the wall. Can you handle the conversion?” He busily connects the handheld to the monitor, so they don’t all have to huddle around the pocket-sized screen.

With a shrug, America sets to work. “We’ll know soon, I guess.”

The Daughter of Ether returns her attention to her bench after picking up a cable. She sets to work on configuring the device to read the metaphysical etheric resonance and translate it dynamic etheric electrical charge. Lights flash, sparks fly, and after some time America sits back, stretches, and spins around to face the others.

“Here goes nothing. "

The data transfers to Will’s screen without a hitch. Fríða mostly sits back now—she’s done her part.Etherites are so flashy. Will shields his eyes from some of it, busily piecing together a Correspondence script that will tell his handheld how to interact with the signals coming in over the phone line.

His eyes shift to the monitor as gobbledygook starts to reel up the screen. Maybe he ought to move Prime to the top of his list. Maybe there’s a reason Kate never particularly encouraged him to pick it up. “Ooookay. I have to assume this is it.” Will plugs the keyboard into his handheld as well; as he types, the script appears on the handheld’s screen, not the monitor. “I could dump this entire output onto the Web. There are plenty of people there who could interpret this. But we’d agreed with Ursula and Matt not to whip the Virtual Adepts into a frenzy, so…” He just lets that hang in the air. Ursula and Matt aren’t here to argue their side anymore, and people are already theorizing that there could be more homonculi hiding among the Traditions. “But now that the information is in here, I should be able to just boost the range so that you can find this resonance pattern from far away.”

He tilts his head from one side to the other, thinking, and then starts writing something up. Will doesn’t know how to move or manipulate living beings, but his new understanding of Correspondence made that irrelevant when he needed to bring his cabal home. He can tweak nonliving patterns with more precision, of course, but now that he has a set of variables courtesy of America’s device to plug into a scrying script, it should be a very similar principle. Easier, even, since he’s not trying to actually move anything, only locate it.

The Daughter of Ether shakes her head. “No. Those monsters will go after everyone and anyone the homonculi know. People who had nothing to do with it.”

America stands up and stretches, moving over to the bed to plop down on it. “We should give the info to everyone on our list of allies, though,” she says, gesturing with her hands while staring up at the basement ceiling.

Of course America would have reason not to trust an angry mob with this information. “Ursula and her Technocrats—I can’t believe I’m endorsing this—might be able to run the resonance by their suspects and the people Linda and Jianyu identify.” The Icelander stretches back. “I’m going to make some tea. Any for either of you? You strike me as the hot cocoa type,” She says to America, gesturing at her gadgets.

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