jl8e: (shadowfist)
[personal profile] jl8e
Now, on to the last of the fiction I had lying around in some form.

Starters just weren't financially feasible at the time, so Critical Shift was another booster set.

The story was to establish the Syndicate and their world. I had tentatively broken it up into six sections, but only wrote the first three before I either bogged down or got distracted by other stuff that needed doing.

This is the only one of those three sections that didn't have anything significant added when I was finishing up, and I feel confident enough that I won't need to add anything that I'm willing to start posting. (I haven't finished the final section, but all the plot's in place, with only some minor segments left to add.)



"You're a hard man to find, Doctor."

Curtis Boatman snapped awake. He jabbed his elbow into the ribs of the woman sleeping by his side. She would start awake and sit up, drawing the assassin's fire. He had survived two previous attempts in this way.

He was already rolling off the bed before he was even aware she hadn't reacted at all.

Still moving on instinct, he hit the floor and reached under the bed for the Helix Ripper he kept there.

He pulled his hand back in pain, sucking on his fingers.

Under the bed, there was only cold, airless space. He saw stars glittering in the darkness.

"Oh, please. If I were here to kill you, you would already be deceased."

A strange, ever-shifting geometric shape floating in the air began to glow with a cold, eerie light. Even this did not disturb the woman on the bed.

"My purpose is merely to talk. I think you will find what I have to offer most intriguing. But first, I have one demand...."

Curtis Boatman waited impassively.

"Put on some trousers."



Li Ting sprawled upon the throne of the Fire Pagoda, resting his head on his hand as he listened to the spy's report. He considered burning the man to ashes for sheer stupidity. Three weeks in the new juncture, and this was all he had learned?

Suddenly, his interest was piqued. He sat up.

"Repeat that."

The fool cleared his throat, "Yes, my lord. What I said was that advanced kung fu training is quite common, and many of the best warriors are enhanced with technology."

"Are you quite certain?"

"Yes, my lord," he rubbed his shoulder. "I witnessed it myself."

"Interesting," he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Leave me."

"But I haven't finished my --"

"Leave me."

The man hurried out.

For a long time, Li Ting sat in silence, lost in thought. Finally, he summoned another of his servants.

The man entered, and bowed deeply. "I am yours to command."

"Go to the new future. You will be my harbinger. I want the secrets of merging chi and technology. Steal it if you must, but we have much we can offer them in return. They are new to the Secret War, after all."



Curtis Boatman steepled his fingers and watched his visitor across the conference room table. Even for this hour, the Dao Biotech complex was strangely quiet. His furtive attempts to get a reaction from security had met with no response.

So he waited, and watched. The man was lean and sharp-featured, with a somewhat unruly head of blonde hair. When he spoke, it was in a tone of arrogance.

"No doubt, I have you at a disadvantage. Let me correct that. I am Geoffrey Smythe. I was --"

"You were Dr. Engel's personal assistant."

"I was nothing more than a glorified secretary! Even after I joined his conspiracy, I never received the credit my genius deserved!"

"So, you come to me."

Smythe's anger faded as rapidly as it had arisen. "Do not think I am here in some petulant fit of egotism."

Boatman folded his hands, his expression blank. "Of course not."

"No, despite the disrespect of my peers and intellectual inferiors, I knew which way the wind was blowing. Our power was waxing, and that of you and your other half was in rapid decline. You were too busy squabbling to even attempt to understand the threat we posed."

If he intended this to get a reaction, Boatman disappointed him. He leaned back in his chair and waited for Smythe to continue.

"But then everything changed. You no doubt think it merely the vagaries of the Secret War -- a new juncture opens, somebody takes feng shui sites, and history rewrites itself."

Boatman raised an eyebrow. "Please, enlighten me."

"In this case, we were the architects, so to speak, of our own downfall."

"Through our superior knowledge, we opened the new juncture -- not globally, but merely a single portal, through which we could travel undetected."

"That is where our brilliant leaders made their first mistake. The portal needed somebody to manage it. They had no shortage of viable candidates, myself included, but they chose Kallisti.

"Kallisti?"

"She took a new name upon joining us. You knew her as Dr. Markovic."

Boatman smiled slightly, "Ah, yes."

"They could not have made a worse choice. She is completely, completely..."

"Insane?"

"Of course she's insane! We're all insane! No, the word I was looking for was 'unpredictable'. Or perhaps 'unreliable'. No matter -- she is both. When a problem arose, she simply released control, allowing the juncture to open fully, and letting all the unwashed rabble in."

"And, without the advantage of secrecy, you lost out to some other organization?"

Smythe gave Boatman a contemptuous glance. "Of course not. We still had the advantage -- we had built an organization in that time, one nobody suspected of involvement in the Secret War."

"No, our failing was that of impatience. Despite our advantages, some of us were not content to proceed sensibly, Kallisti, Rhys, and Primus hatched a new plan."

"Another alias. Who was this one when they were in the CDCA?"

"Not exactly an alias -- names have power, so he decided not to have one."

Boatman sighed. "However you describe it, he used to have a name. What was it?"

Now Smythe sighed, "You really don't understand," he said pityingly, "He has no name. It no longer exists. Nobody knows it anymore."

"I... see. No matter. Go on. What was this new plan?"

"In the right place, at the right time, all the world's chi would flow though a single point. They devised a method that would allow somebody there to attune to all the world's feng shui at once. Of course, you see the obvious flaw in this plan?"

"The wrong person found out?"

"That and worse! They needed certain magical artifacts to make this work. They used dupes to retrieve them! And then they didn't kill them!"

Boatman shook his head. "Astounding. So who controls the new juncture now?"

"I have no idea. We never got a report back. Does it matter?"

"Not in the short term. Anyway, why did you come to see me?"

"I have no patience to wait while we rebuild our power base. You are well-positioned here. I feel we have much to offer each other."

"Oh?"

"You have an organization in this juncture. You are rounding up your abominations."

"Yes, I am. Why do I need you?"

"This juncture is completely ignorant of the existence of powers such as mine. They have no defenses, no safeguards. I found you, after all, despite your security measures."

"True. I admit to some curiosity. How did you do that?"

"You have certain habits that make you quite predictable. In this juncture, I have a sister. A strange experience... I've never had one before." He paused, seemingly lost in thought.

After a moment, he resumed, "It was simplicity itself to bend her to my will. Then you did most of my work for me."

Smythe smiled, "I've become quite... fond of her, but if you like her, she's yours. She is no longer useful to me."

Boatman shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "No, that's quite all right."

"Very well. With my intellect and powers backing your resources, you should have little difficulty in seizing control of this juncture from whatever masters it may possess."

"And you would presumably be my equal partner in the enterprise?"

"No, no, I am not so ambitious. I am quite content to be a junior partner."

"Of course you are."

"After all, it will take considerable time to raise a new cadre of Purists and overthrow you."

Boatman paused. "Well, how can I refuse such a generous offer?"

He extended his hand.

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