“Sorry, Dudes. My Bad.”
story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb
Elisha, still in Caliban guise, stood alone in the darkened basement of an abandoned baked-goods factory off the highway four miles outside Delphi city limits. The air stank of machine oil and ancient yeast.
The Prefect whispered the words of a common cantrip, and a gobbet of heatless white fire bloomed to life above his open palm. It hovered near his shoulder like a familiar, lighting his way as he crossed the empty space with dull footsteps, toward a small maintenance office in the back.
The door gave a shriek of protest as he eased it open. A pool of white light spilled into the office within.
Duncan Harper was there as the mercs had promised, duct-taped to a beat-up metal chair, his body slack, head drooping to one side.
Elisha hit the light switch, sent the white flame back to the Aether with a wave of his hand. Ripped off the piece of tape that covered Duncan’s mouth, then pulled up a folding chair and waited in funereal silence.
A few minutes later, his captive stirred with a groan.
“Mr. Harper,” said Elisha, in his Caliban growl.
Duncan blinked his eyes open, squinted against the harsh fluorescent lighting. “Where am I?” he croaked.
“That’s not important,” said Elisha. Duncan’s eyes focused on him. The younger man startled visibly at the sight of Caliban’s face. “The question that matters,” the Prefect went on, “is whether you want to do this the easy way or the hard way.”
“Do what, exactly?” Duncan’s voice trembled.
Elisha stood; strolled over to him, hands in pockets. Leaned down close to his ear. Duncan grimaced, tried to flinch away. “Talk to me about May 14th.”
Duncan was silent a moment. “What about it?” he whispered finally. His eyes were glued to the floor, his breaths coming evenly but roughly through his nose.
“Don’t be coy.” Elisha took Duncan’s chin in his hand, tilted his head up. “Tell me everything you did that day, and maybe, just maybe, I won’t pulp your nuts and force-feed them to you through a straw.”
Duncan made a gagging sound. A tear slid down the side of his nose. Elisha studied his goofy, boyish face and felt a wave of revulsion. It’s true, isn’t it, you little shit? You’re acting shady as fuck.
When he spun and overturned an old metal desk with his foot, it wasn’t a performance. “Talk, you little pissant!” He straddled the chair, bunched Duncan’s shirtfront in his fist. “Or I swear to Christ I’ll knock your fucking teeth through the back of your skull. Your own goddamn wife won’t be able to ID your body when I’m through with you.” He cocked his fist, sweating with rage.
“I don’t know what you mean!” Duncan twisted his neck in a useless effort to hide his face.
Elisha’s fist trembled. Is there any chance I’m wrong? Is there any chance it really wasn’t him? He was nothing if not a good reader of people, and Duncan, Elisha could tell, was hiding something. What he couldn’t reconcile was how he could have been so wrong about the kid all these years. Even now, what he was picking up from the Associate wasn’t the vibe of an unrepentant killer. It was…
Resignation. He’s convinced this won’t end well for him. He’s scared shitless, but he doesn’t see a way out.
… What can that mean?
Elisha relaxed suddenly; sat back down in the folding chair, facing his captive. “Look,” he said, as gently as his Caliban-voice could manage. “This doesn’t have to go badly for you. I mean it. I’m not pulling your chain.” He paused. “You got a wife and kid, right?”
“Yes.” Duncan sounded strangely resolute. “I do.”
“What age? Boy or girl?” Elisha, of course, already knew the answer. Boy. Less than a year old; name of Andrew.
“Why do you want to know?” Duncan glared.
“Just making conversation.” Elisha paused. “I got a kid myself, actually. Goddamn light of my life, you know what I’m saying?”
Duncan nodded slowly, tears pooling in his eyes.
“I know you’d do anything to see them again,” Elisha went on. “Anything. Father to father, ain’t that the truth?”
Again, Duncan nodded.
Elisha took a deep breath. “Well, then. Talk to me about May 14th. Start from the beginning. You tell me the truth—the whole truth, so help you, God—maybe there’s still a happy ending in this for you after all.” He paused, chuckled. “I may be an ugly motherfucker, but I ain’t no monster. I don’t wanna deprive an innocent wife and kid of their husband and father—if I can help it.”
Duncan eyed him. “Are you not planning on turning me in to the Auctoritas Magicae?”
Elisha’s blood ran cold. Does that mean you really did do it? “I have it on good authority”—he was careful not to let a spike of anger find its way into his voice—“that the Auctoritas Magicae will be willing to consider a lesser sentence than tranquilization if you give us enough to nail the real masterminds of the plot.”
“Life imprisonment, you mean?” Hope glittered in Duncan’s eyes. “And I could have visits with my family?”
“I’m sure that could be arranged.” Elisha kept his stoic mask carefully in place.
“Thank God.” Tears flowed down Duncan’s cheeks. “I’ll tell you, then, okay? I’ll tell you everything.”
I can’t believe this. I really can’t believe this. How did I have you figured so wrong?
Duncan took a deep breath. “I was a first-generation pledge of the Hermetic Order of Khmun,” he began, “taken in and raised by them as an orphan. They kept me off their official roster; trained me for the express purpose of becoming their agent within Ordo Arcanus.”
“Then this was a plot that’s been years in the making,” murmured Elisha. “Since even before Karamat came to power.”
“The HOK’s always had a number of different operations set up to strike at the leadership of Ordo Arcanus, in case there was ever a need,” Duncan went on. “This particular plot was the brainchild of High Servant of Truth Senusret, but Her Divine Wisdom Karamat was the one who ended up deploying it, once Prefect Weyland’s prototype machina was complete.”
“Are there other plots in place, then, as we speak?” Elisha’s pulse drummed a war march in his ears.
“Oh, no doubt. But I couldn’t tell you anything about them. Khmun protects that information by making sure we field agents only know what we absolutely have to know to carry out our assignments. We’re not given any information about operations not directly related to our own.”
“You telling me the truth about that?” Elisha stood up from his seat.
Duncan looked him in the eyes. “Yes.”
Elisha decided to believe him. For now. “Tell me how you carried out the attack on the council chamber.” He settled back into his chair.
“Well, you may be aware I was Elisha Weyland’s assistant.”
As a matter of fact, I might.
“I helped him design and build the 3G machina that was used in the attack.” Duncan paused. Swallowed hard. “During the process, I used my knowledge of goetia—which is a discipline I trained in secretly with the HOK—to trap a daemon inside the construct.”
Goddamn it. Goddamn it. It really is true.
“It was a powerful daemon,” said Duncan. “The most powerful one I ever brought under my command. I succeeded in binding it to the machina, then notified the High Servant of Truth once the weapon was ready. She sent word back that I should keep an eye out for any opportunity to make a move against Archmagus Weyland, preferably publicly, and in some spectacular fashion. So I kept my ear to the ground, and when Jules Nimri requested use of the machina for his presentation to the Tribunal, I knew it was just the kind of scenario the High Servant was waiting for. So I sent word to her, and the order came back almost immediately to go forward with the operation.” Duncan took a deep breath. “So, the night of May 14th, while I was helping Prefect Weyland set up the machina on the grand balustrade outside the council chamber, I supplied it with the brimstone grenades. I then stayed behind after the Prefect had gone into the chamber so I could issue the commands to the daemon.” He paused. “The rest, as they say, is history.”
Elisha fixed him with an icy stare. “You show quite the lack of remorse,” he pronounced, “for someone responsible for the loss of fifty-two innocent lives, and the shattering of dozens—no, hundreds more.”
Duncan eyed him anxiously. “I…only did as I was commanded.”
“You only did as you were commanded?” Elisha jumped up, overturned his chair.
“Remember, y-you said I could see my wife and son again!”
“You sure you can even face them? You sure they’ll want to see you, once they know who you really are and what you fucking did?”
Duncan broke down in tears. “I just want to see them again, even just once. I just want to know—”
“Then maybe,” Elisha cut him off quietly, “you better tell me why you just lied to me.”
Duncan stared at him. “I—I didn’t. I didn’t lie. I told you the truth, every detail. Just like you wanted.”
“Dammit, Duncan!” roared Elisha. “Don’t play games with me!”
“I’m not playing!” Duncan screamed back, red-faced. “I’m not fucking playing! I told you the truth! You have to believe me!”
“I checked that machina again after you and I set it up, dammit! When people were already starting to arrive for the council!”
Elisha yanked the glamor ring from his finger. “I checked it inside and out,” he said, in his own voice. “It wasn’t carrying any fucking grenades. I’m sure of it. And you were in the council hall by then, and I didn’t see you leave once the entire time.”
“Why are you lying to me, Duncan? What are you leaving out?”
“I’m not…” Duncan shook his head helplessly. “I’m not lying.” He started weeping like a child. “It was me, man. I did it. I just got some of the details wrong.”
“So you forgot the details of an operation you trained and prepared for your entire life? Bullshit.”
“It’s the truth, you fuck! Why won’t you just fucking believe me?”
“Why won’t you tell me the goddamn truth?!”
“It is the truth! It is the truth!” Flecks of foam flew from Duncan’s lips.
“I will get it out of you!” Elisha collared him.
“You just did!” Duncan broke down in wracking sobs.
“Don’t make me do this the hard way, spud. I am begging you here, do not make me do this the hard way.”
“Fuck you, Elisha! Fuck you! Do whatever the fuck you want to me! I swear I’ve told you everyth—”
Elisha whipped off his round metal sunglasses, wrenched Duncan’s head back.
The young man’s face went slack. His bloodshot eyes, as Elisha stared into them, became suddenly unblinking and dull. Elisha’s head throbbed as blackness swirled before his sight; as he homed in, then started to force his way through.
He’d never practiced against resistance. There just wasn’t a safe or humane way to do it. The closest he’d come was with that cat that had used to hang out on the roof outside his childhood bedroom window. The memory of what had happened as a result made Elisha cry to this day, when he was alone and let himself think about it too hard.
Now—like then—the first thing he felt was the pain. The fear.
Next came the helplessness. The sense of violation.
Then the numb acceptance of loss of control.
Remember New York. Remember my letter of acceptance from Delphi.
“Mom! Dad! Dad! Mom!”
“Duncan, honey, what are you screaming about?”
“I got the apprenticeship! I’m going to Delphi!”
“Oh, baby, that’s incredible! Rick, did you hear that? Our boy’s going to Delphi!”
Happiest day of my life, till I met Monique.
Remember May 14th.
… Thrilled to see Elisha’s machinae in action. Ecstatic for G3’s debut. My life’s work on display for the world to see.
Then I saw them: grenades. I didn’t think. I threw myself on Monique and Andrew, to shield them. The smoke burned my eyes and my lungs. Screaming and sobbing from every direction. Hell on earth. Andrew, coughing and coughing—I was scared he couldn’t breathe.
… So I really didn’t do it?
No! I did do it! I did!
I know I didn’t. I can see I didn’t. Why did I lie?
No. No no no no. Get out.
Why did I lie?
She’ll kill them.
SHE’LL KILL THEM.
It’ll hurt even more if I fight.
“We have your wife and son, Mr. Harper.”
A phone call…? That voice …
“They’ll come for you. They’ll interrogate you. You’ll pretend to resist at first, but, eventually, you’ll talk to them; and this is what you’ll say. Listen very carefully, Mr. Harper, because if you get this wrong, the consequences will be severe.”
Amelia…forced me to lie…?
“Do exactly as I’ve told you, or we’ll burn them both alive.”
FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU ELISHA GET OUT
Elisha came to on the floor at Duncan’s feet, facedown in a warm puddle of what could only be urine. The air in the office reeked of piss and shit.
“Duncan,” he gasped, pushing himself to his feet.
The Associate slumped half-conscious in the chair, blood dribbling from his ears, nose, and eyes.
“It wasn’t you,” Elisha choked, trembling. “It really wasn’t you. God! Why couldn’t you have just told me?”
“She’ll kill them,” Duncan slurred, pink tears pooling in his eyes.
“No she won’t,” Elisha babbled. “No she fucking won’t. Fuck, Duncan. Fuck! Please stay with me. Come on. I’ll make this up to you. I’ll make this up to you if it kills me.”
He whipped out a knife, slashed through the duct tape. Gathered the Associate’s limp form into his arms and sank to the floor, cradling him, trying to make him as comfortable as possible—then whipped out Caliban’s burner phone and punched in DeShay’s cell number, hoping against hope the signal would find its way through the interference from Delphi’s Fathoms.
Voicemail. “DeShay, this is not a joke. If you’re with people, I want you to pause this message right now and go listen to it somewhere where no one can overhear. Okay?” He took a deep breath. “Okay. Baby, I don’t even know how to begin to explain myself to you. But I need you to drop whatever you’re doing and come right now to the address I’m gonna text you, and bring all your healer-y shit. Make sure no one follows you, and delete this message now, and the text too, and don’t breathe a word about this to anyone—okay? And get ready to forget everything you’re about to see and never ask me any questions about any of it, ever. I’m so sorry in advance. I love you more than life. Bye.”
He dropped the phone, took one look at Duncan’s graying face, and broke down in tears. “Fuck—fucking—fuck this.” He slammed his fist into the concrete floor. “I swear I’m gonna make this up to you, spud. Okay? Just hang in there. As God is my witness, Duncan, I swear to you on my life: You will be with your family again. Do you understand?”
Duncan turned dull eyes on him.
“As God is my witness,” Elisha vowed, seeing visions of blood, “that Amelia bitch will pay.”