The Aftermath Academy - CH15 (Olivia)

Let me tell you about my day. I mean, you don’t have to listen. But you should, because I’m awesome and you’re figments of my imagination. So my day was probably more interesting than yours since I clearly don’t have enough imagination for you to even talk to me, much less imagine interesting lives for each of you. Or maybe you just don’t like me? Oh well, I don’t have anyone else to talk to here in Hope’s Bastion so guess this will do.

I guess this day wasn’t anything to write home about by my standards. Definitely not as interesting as the day I wiped out a small army or the time I took acid, which now that I think about it might have been the same day.

But it was ok. I woke up in a penthouse. Not one of ours, so obviously not as tasteful as mine will be once I get to live in it and go to town with some interior decorators. In fact, Hope’s taste is downright gaudy.

She has gold toilets. Solid gold. Not nearly as impressive now that duplicators can just spawn commodities, but the fact that she thinks it is impressive ages her a bit. They’re way too soft for my tastes. My Pride bent the seat in. Oh well, I do have a habit of personalizing toilet seats no matter what material they’re made of.

Also gaudy? The view of her dome. The best part of waking up in a penthouse is that you can roll out of the shredded remains of your bedding and look out the window to a beautiful sunrise without worrying about airplanes hitting you.

Because there is nothing more inconvenient than getting hit by an airplane when trying to see a beautiful sunrise. Trust me, it’s happened to me like three times. Then instead of enjoying the view while munching on enough delicious bacon and eggs that your power doesn’t vaporize all of the taste, you’re flying around trying to keep anyone from dying because The Butler might come after you. Only it’s hard, because the plane is like paper and you just keep tearing through the metal by accident and everyone is screaming inside and sometimes the pilot already had his legs sheared off.

Well, ok, it was hard for me. It’d probably be very easy for you if a plane hit you because you’d probably just be dead. But, if it makes you feel better, I waste platefuls of delicious bacon and eggs since my powers will often just obliterate them before I can swallow, no matter how carefully I try to hold them so they don’t disintegrate in my fingers. Breakfast is a genuine challenge for me to enjoy in remotely the same manner you might. We all have our burdens to bear!

But if you just wake up in a penthouse, you don’t have to worry about airport placement at six in the morning. Hope’s damn dome blocks all view of the sun though. Artificial light permeates her domain, slowly brightening as the day goes on until it diminishes in the evening.

It was frustrating, even more so since I slept little to keep my power level down. Who knew the Slothful aspects of my abilities would ever be a burden? But I knew overcoming the irritability of sleep deprivation was a worthwhile effort if it meant that I wouldn’t instantly shred my clothes while trying to put them on.

Even so, it was a hassle. I went through three dresses before I got one on without tearing. Playing the princess is aggravating, especially since it’s bullshit. My mother was the first ever Queen of Hex. She took over after the first two Purges depopulated our nation. Any idiot with a background in political science should have been able to tell her how well her little coup would go. In fact, I think several idiots did. She tended to kill them.

But they were right, and shortly after her untimely demise my Uncle wisely handed over the country to the Consolidated Empire. Yet because of our brief time pretending to be a kingdom, I have to go undercover wearing a dress. How is that fair?

It’s not, that’s how. If I were a Prince I wouldn’t have to wear this shit.

No, wait, that would be worse. At least the dresses have a tiny bit of breathing room. Hope’s prohibition against nano-tech in her personal space would still be in effect and I would have shredded normal suits in a heartbeat.

I guess the real target of my ire is that royalty are expected to wear clothes at all. Not getting past that one I suppose.

Her food was ok. I even got a little taste through since my Pride is as weak as I can make it and still have it on which, in case it wasn’t clear, is always if I have a choice in the matter.

I was suspicious of the food, but it shouldn’t really matter since I’m not digesting things the normal way. It was normal, or as normal as anything gets in a metropolis full of empowered. I think there was an eggplant that tasted like pizza.

Point being, I made it through breakfast without being drugged, which I will remember for the future should always be a pleasant feeling. I normally don’t have to worry about it since, really, what can anyone do to me? But here the rules are different and it made me realize that not passing out and waking up in some tyrant’s torture dungeon is a daily occurrence that I should really take more joy from.

What I enjoyed less was when the butler scared the bejeezus out of me with his sudden appearance behind me. Not THE Butler, just A Butler, mind you. I still overreacted by throwing him out the window. I might have been even more surprised when he showed up again thirty minutes later, outfit a little ruffled but otherwise fine, besides the deep gouges in the back of his suit where my fingers had sunk in around his spine.

“I apologize for surprising you. That was highly unprofessional of me,” he’d told me, as if I hadn’t just hurled him out of a window almost a mile up off the ground.

I’ll admit it, I stared at him a couple minutes. Normally if I hurl someone out of a building, they do not come back looking ready to serve me tea and crumpets. And if they do come back, they’re usually unhappy about the whole ‘threw them out of a building’ thing.

“So is this…like a normal day at work for you?” I asked him in puzzlement, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Goodness no, my lady. I only get thrown out of the penthouse once every couple of years. Fortunately, the immortality field is quite effective at preventing fall damage. And Hope’s contract is very robust regarding what constitutes inappropriate abuse of staff. I’m afraid this misunderstanding is entirely my fault. I should not have surprised a guest that has been in hiding for fear of assassination attempts.”

“You really shouldn’t surprise anyone like that. It’s rude,” I told him. “And sneaky. Note to self, I’m hiring you if I need a quiet, sneaky person for something.” Like assassination. I wonder how much I’d have to pay him. Probably less than I’ll have to pay for clothes at the rate I’ve been going through them. I had to change again because I threw him out the window so fast that I ripped through my dress.

I’d considered throwing him out the window again and watching the fall this time, just to see the immortality field in action. But I’m sure you’ll be proud of me to know that I showed restraint. I waited until he turned his back on me to thrust my fist through his skull.

Where normally there would be brain matter there was instead a liquid golden glow around my hand and, as I drew it out, his head reformed to the same state it was in before my little experiment. He kept moving as if nothing happened.

I’ve heard the stories for years, but witnessing a reconstitution for the first time was impressive. Certainly a lot more impressive than the elevator ride down to Hope’s living floors. It was a long way down, and the elevator is a clear glass box that I am sure impresses people who can’t fly. Since I can, I spent the ride pestering Jarvis.

That’s what I named my butler. Jarvis. I’m sure he has a real name, but it probably isn’t as good as Jarvis. Besides, Jarvis reminds me of Jared, which makes me laugh since Jared is THE Butler. I think we had a family Butler named Jarvis when I was little too, or maybe I just liked the name even then. He didn’t last long after he refused to give me cookies and ice cream.

Jarvis was not very talkative. I assume he was just bitter about all these long elevator rides, given he would have died and been reconstituted too quickly to feel pain when he hit the ground after my reaction earlier. Or maybe he noticed the hand through the head after-all.

Eventually it occurred to me that Hope could always be spying on her new entertainment, being me, and realized I should probably do a better job acting the princess even when not in her direct presence. It was a depressing realization and left me moody the rest of the elevator ride.

I barely notice the first spatial distortion blur that indicates we’ve passed to a different part of the Bastion entirely. I don’t know whose power is utilized, but I know the pattern they use in winding their distortion through the city was developed by Krieg. It’s why he will be able to navigate the city normally once our plan is finally near completion.

Unfortunately, right now it’s why I wouldn’t be able to just crash down through the dome and tower with Krieg, have him neutralize Void, and do whatever we want with Hope. For that matter, it’s why we can’t tunnel up through the ground. Aggravating, given it means we’ll inevitably have to go through any Executioners based in Hope’s Bastion.

If they weren’t bad enough, he suspects Hope has more trump cards than just Void. Thus my current undercover job, as if she would let slip her most powerful minions to some visiting girl she’d just met.

Naturally the first thing Hope does for the day when I arrive in her court is introduce me to Severo Lieves, her primary bodyguard. Severo has the ability to tear a leaf after connecting its life thread to another human being, instantly killing them. She thinks that I will like him, as he once worked for the Hexian Royal guard while my mother was alive.

I didn’t like him at all. Besides his obvious failure to save my mother from totally unintended helicopter crashes, he has a twisted smile with several craggy teeth. You would think Hope pays enough for a half decent dentist, but then again maybe there aren’t any dentists who can afford to live in her city. I’m kidding, I know Hope has dentists on staff, so Severo’s scary smile is a purposeful display to distract or dismay.

Even without the addition of other trump cards, Severo is a complication. His power probably couldn’t penetrate my Pride normally, but Hope can withdraw her protection and Void can leave me powerless, meaning Severo could kill me in an instant.

Luckily the entire time I’m in Severo’s presence, I’m also in Void’s, so the terror I should feel at being so vulnerable is largely absent from my emotional library.

Hope’s court is a beautiful thing, if you’re into lots of marble, gold and good looking people. Other than buck-toothed Severo, she’s surrounded herself by a plethora of physically flawless men and women. It’s practically a small stadium and I’m still wondering how it’s structurally possible to fit the damn thing in her tower. But maybe her pet space warper made the giant room fun-sized. For all I know I stepped out of the elevator into a broom closet.

She has flowing silk curtains hanging on mahogany walls in bright red and purple dyes. I resisted rolling my eyes in her presence. It’s like she has a hodgepodge of every formerly rare building and decorative material. Maybe she even wasted the money on natural materials. But with the general commodities market in the toilet from high-level creator and duplicator classes doing their thing, you could buy most of this garbage on the wages of a high school part time job.

What you couldn’t buy, and Hope certainly has, is the sycophantic god worship this crowd has for her, tacky taste and all. The crowd practically screams in adulation. I know many of them serve Hope, despite once being high powered investment bankers or successful entrepreneurs. They handed over their life savings, their businesses, and their services for the hope of Hope’s safety, her offer of immortality.

I wonder how many of them did so before The Plague’s attack and wonder if they would still make the same decision. With all the new security precautions, inadequate though they are, I’m sure most of them would rationalize away that it was still worth it.

Today was a particularly busy day for Hope’s court. It is, after all, the annual celebration Hope holds to rejuvenate her ability. I am led to a place of honor such that I have front row seats to the presentation of her sacrifice. I may well be the most important person here, besides Hope herself.

There are many former politicians in the crowd, I am sure, but despite allowing her sovereign status there are not many seated dignitaries from other nations who would be willing to make an appearance at this event. No one from Heroes guilds would consider it tasteful either. The Untouchables would never show up somewhere Void is just in case his power takes priority over theirs. And the Executioners living in the city would stick close to the portals in their base just in case they need to deploy. Krieg has it on good authority that they sit around playing board games, trying not to go crazy and kill each other (or anyone else).

Even if they try, they’re immortal here, so it’s a moot effort. Stir-craziness is a common problem in this city, given the high density and unwillingness of much of the populace in leaving it. Wouldn’t be my choice, but I’m almost surprised folks don’t lie down on a bunk and just plug themselves into Albion’s world for the long haul. Safe body and free mind. For those who think Hope’s a saint, or a God like those stupid NPCs, I’m not sure what more they could want.

But maybe Hope doesn’t want to compete for attention with the fictionalized deity version of herself because, to my knowledge, no one in her Bastion is allowed into virtual reality environments. Which is odd, because I would think stir craziness gets even worse for Hope, who spends all her time in this court or her rooms so she can blanket the whole city with the immortality field. Her space warper might be able to bring a park to her or something.

Right now she’s luxuriating in the crowd’s cheers as she stands up in her flowing golden gown that doesn’t match well at all with her zebra hair and skin. I’m seriously unsure if she’s doing this on purpose or not. I prefer to spend a lot of my time barely clothed and I have more fashion sense than this woman. It’s not even something I care about, but if I can wear rags and blood stains without offending people’s eyeballs then she should be able to wear high quality silk without making me want to rip mine out.

My inability to use my Gluttony made my actual stomach hungry and I spend some time wishing I’d eaten more breakfast while trying to stare dutifully at Hope in a manner that with any luck makes me look admiring. This is hard, as I haven’t truly admired anyone in ages and can’t really remember what it is supposed to look like. Hopefully it at least matches the respect I feel for Krieg, Lilith and Abe. That’s probably the best I can do.

Speaking of Lilith, for the record, I really would much rather be talking to her than you figments of my imagination. She’s cooler than you people, and talks back. I’ve been telling you about my day for like ten minutes right now and still haven’t heard jack shit. I even sporadically changed tenses to try and really make you feel like you’re there with me, even though I clearly just imagined you up at the start of the story.

Damn, maybe I do need to get better at imagining things. Especially since my communications are obviously watched and I won’t be able to do more than make some small talk and pass along a few highly encoded messages with stupid phrases like “I wish they had more birds here” to indicate I found a high value target like Severo.

But I guess you quiet bastards are all I have for now, so back to my day. Hope, in her shitty gown, killed some old guy to the cheers of thousands.

Then we all went back to our rooms for some R&R.

Wait… you want me to go back and explain that whole old guy murder bit? (See, this is me imagining you talking to me because you can’t really talk to me due to being figments of my imagination. It’s ok, I’ll get better at talking for you.)

I mean there isn’t much to it, other than she does it intentionally and is rewarded for it while if anyone catches Lilith accidentally offing some old driver she’s suddenly a horrible person just because the driver wasn’t a willing sacrifice. Poor Lilith, it’s so unjust. But maybe you’re wondering why?

It’s because Hope is, in essence, a multiplier. She takes the life-force of someone else, and multiplies it infinitely in her radius. Her ability lasts roughly a year. So every year she takes some old person who is tired of being immortal but stuck in a decrepit old body because they couldn’t afford cell rejuvenation in addition to a bed in Hope’s Bastion and, to the celebration of millions, she sucks that sucker dry.

That’s the claim anyways. In reality, she probably pays some poor folk’s family from outside the Bastion in exchange for a dying old man to volunteer his life up. Whatever. It’s a consensual exchange.

Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?

The thing is, the people here all know what this Utopia is built on.

They know what is required. But we know what Hope takes.

And those are two very different things.