The Empress is dying.
Vivian Clark mulls this over as she stands at the bottom of an access shaft and pushes off against the ground with her mind. As she drifts upwards, towards the low-gravity center of Genesis Station, she tries to imagine life without Madame President Shion Nys. It doesn't seem possible. Shion, her godmother (and the godmother of thousands like her), always has been, and to her twenty-four year-old mind, always will be. At 236 she's the oldest person Vivian knows, older by far than any of her grandparents (she's given up on keeping track of all the 'greats'—anyone in her family line who isn't a direct parent is a 'grandparent').
To Vivian, Shion has always been tall, strong, and beautiful, with thick white hair and impeccable fashion sense. She's also one of the most powerful espers Vivian has ever known, which is remarkable not in and of itself (not in this day and age), but only when one considers Vivian comes from not just from a family, but an entire nation of espers.
Shion was around when the idea of Genesis Station first began, back when espers were scattered across the Earth, at the mercy of massive multinational corporations who did what they pleased with these unique resources. She was there with all the rest, Raven Clark (one of Vivian's ancestors), Vivian Lau (another of Vivian's ancestors and her namesake), Allen Schwartzkern (who may have been Shion's lover for years—she can't recall), Azumi Kiribayashi (who lived for over two centuries tending her shrine, until she passed away at the incredible age of 247), and even Ran, that nigh-mythical "super-esper" who (rumor has it) eventually became one with his psychokinetic power and transcended mortal form.
Shion was there before the Third World War, and the Second American Civil War, two events which served to totally reshape the political map of Earth. She could remember the first replicated humans, the first genetic upgrades, the first cyborgs, the first trans-humans and post-humans. She could recall a time before bio-links and nano-weaves, before pocket replicators, antigravity, and hyper-space shunts. She was, in some ways, a virtual time machine (as were many of the espers on Genesis Station—living into your second century wasn't that unusual anymore), able to recreate a past time in almost perfect detail.
And now she was dying.
Vivian stops at the top of the access shaft and looks down the hall. She is in the low-gravity section of the hospital, where those with severe injuries and illnesses are kept, to reduce the strain on their hearts, lungs, and bodies. It is also, to be blunt, where the old go to die.
Vivian can hear voices in the quiet halls . Genesis may have a population in the hundreds of thousands, but espers tend to be a hardy bunch—there are few patients in this part of the hospital. Vivian suspects that someone of Shion's stature has a whole wing to herself. She was one of the original founders of the Esper Foundation, a financial backer of Genesis Station, and its first President after all. The voices almost certainly belong to others like herself. The closest thing the Empress has to family. When Shion dies, the Nys line will die with her. Ages ago, there was another Nys. A sister named Marta, who lived with and loved Li Ling Ling, a former resident of New Hong Kong. Ling Ling came to live with Shion on Genesis after the death of Marta (or something like that, it happened over 150 years ago and the details are a touch fuzzy), serving as the new President's secretary before her own death at the then-unheard of age of 190 or so.
These days, Shion's family is all of Genesis. She considers everyone on it to be her 'children,' esper and non-esper alike and has been made Godmother to literally thousands. But her true family, the ones she considers closest, are people like Vivian. Descendants of Raven Clark, who also helped found the Esper Foundation and Genesis, who thawed the infamous "Ice Queen," and made the Empress realize she wasn't alone in the world. Raven, who (rumor has it) was one of the first to break free of the multinationals and was the foster mother to a dozen or so young espers, almost all of whom when on to form the core of the Esper Foundation—including her other famous ancestor—Vivian Lau.
Vivian shares more than a name with her famous grandmother. She shares her height as well, barely topping 160 centimeters in an era where 178 is considered below-average. On the plus side, her hair (and figure) are more in line with antiquated holos of Raven Clark. Of course, all of that pales to some of the pictures she's seen of Shion in her prime. Even today, in the era of total genetic augmentation, its hard to find her equal.
Shaking her head, her waist-length tresses floating in the reduced gravity, Vivian mentally presses on the floor and pushes 'up' just enough to send her drifting down the hall. She can feel the presence of other espers in her mind, a dozen at least, while behind them is the gentle pressure she has come to associate with Godmother Nys, the Empress, Madam President... She is startled at how weak it is, and feels a slight twinge at the prospect of seeing her. She's been away at college these last four years and has barely had time to come home, much less visit with her extended relations. She's almost afraid to see her now, to have her mental picture of the unstoppable and unflappable Shion destroyed by the harsh reality of old age and mortality.
Gritting her teeth and shaking her head again, Vivian pushes such thoughts out of her mind. She will see Godmother Nys one last time. Pay her respects to the woman who brought so much to Genesis Station and say goodbye to her ancestor's closest friend.
As expected the outer room contains over a dozen fellow espers. They are all relatives of hers, in some fashion, with some more distant than others. She recognizes a few faces, can place a few names, and runs through the rest in her head. Alonso, Cephus, Clark, Hasan, Hather, Lau, Tahu... they are as mixed as their names, although, as with most residents of Genesis, they are mostly tall, well-shaped, and attractive. Shion is from a time when racial distinctions were more pronounced, so her lightly tanned skin and white hair are far less notable now then they used to be. Vivian's hair, for example, is a pale purplish-gray, and she sees tresses of inky black, golden blonde, blue, red, green... a multitude of colors both natural and enhanced. Skintone, however, it mostly light brownish—the result of two hundred years of mixing.
She smiles and moves among her fellow espers, her distant family, her peers. Words of greeting are exchanged, as are condolences (to one another), and remembrances of times past. Like herself, many of the others find it had to imagine Shion being gone. She smiles, nods, and realizes that she doesn't know these people. But then, they don't know her either (or each other, for that matter). Sad that it takes such an event to bring distant relations together.
Vivian pauses a moment and realizes that people are slipping in and out of the room. Going to visit Shion, pay their respects, say a few last words. Outside, there is forced attempts at laughter, drinking, and more than a little crying. The mood is somber and some go so far as to not bother talking—telepathy can communicate their feeling far better than words. But Vivian isn't a telepath, she's a psychokinetic, pure and simple, a throw-back in some ways to a far earlier form of esper. Not that it matters. She doesn't like the idea of reading other people's minds—there's enough prying into her life as it is without her mind being an open book for others.
Sitting down, she sips at her water (drink and esper powers don't mix—she knows from experience) and tries to mentally catch her breath. She needs to go see Shion, to stop avoid the reason she's here, to finally go inside and see the woman who's so central to life on Genesis—or was anyway, for so many years.
Rising, she takes a deep breath, sets down her glass, and go into Shion's private room. It is empty of other visitors at the moment, quiet and dimly lit, the air pleasantly cool.
Shion lies in her bed, looking thin and to Vivian's eyes, aged. She knows Shion is old, but the woman has never really looked it before, until now. It's almost a little frightening and makes a knot in Vivian's stomach. She want's to remember the tall strong Empress, not the far more frail person lying in her deathbed.
"Hello, Vivian." The voice is faint, but still contains some of its former strength. She nods her head, unable to say anything, then sits down on the edge of the bed, reaching for one of Shion's hands. The chill startles her, but she keeps it hidden (she hopes), and puts on her best smile. "Hello, Godmother."
"Hmm... always with the titles." Shion whispers, attempting her own smile.The bed has been angled to proper her up, and Vivian fears she's too weak to even stand. Will this happen to her as well? Is this what her ancestors went through?
"Could be worse," she answers. "I could've called you Empress instead of Godmother."
"Empress..." Shion repeats the title slowly, almost wistfully. "Does anyone still call me that?"
"Well...not up here," Vivian replies, squeezing Shion's hand. "Down on the ground some people still do. Non-espers, mostly."
"I was called that behind my back, out of fear, not respect." She pauses and takes a weak breath. "I liked it, actually, but tried not to let on. But, I think I prefer 'Madam President.' You?"
Vivian nods. "Me too. 'The Empress' is who you were, but 'Madam President' is who you are now." She pauses briefly and smiles again. "I still like 'Godmother' best, though."
"Thank you." Shion coughs, and Vivian feels a chill down her back at the sound. All the nano-technology in Genesis Station means nothing in the face of advanced age. There are still things man has not yet mastered. Perhaps it is for the best.
"You look so much like your grandmother."
"You miss her very much, don't you?" asks Vivian gently, imagining how lonely it must be for Shion to have outlived everyone who was important in her life.
"Yes...." Shion replies softly, her eyes focusing across the years. "She was my first and closest friend."
"Tell me about her," says Vivian. "Tell me the sort of stuff I can't learn from reading a biography, or doing an infodump on her. Tell me...tell me why she became so important to you."
"She... was my friend. My first real friend other than my sister. I know that sounds strange to you now... but in my youth I was full of arrogance. I looked down on most everyone else, especially anyone not blessed with even the smallest amount of esper abilities. But your grandmother brought me out of that, helped me throw off the persona of the Empress, and made me realize that one cannot live alone."
"And we are very lucky she did, or Genesis Station and the Esper Foundation would never have come to be." Vivian kneels alongside the bed, and clasps Shion's hand between her own two, distressed at how cold and paper-dry her skin feels. "But how did she do it?" she asks. "How did she befriend you... reach you... when nobody else could?"
"She never gave up." Shion smiles weakly. "She decided to be my friend, no matter what I thought or said. She also told me when I was acting like the Empress and not like a person...."
Vivian smiles gently. "How very brave of her," she says, half-teasingly. "But no matter how determined she was to be your friend, I don't think she couldn't have succeeded if you hadn't wanted her to, deep down inside. Ultimately, you still had to let her be your friend, right?"
Vivian pauses and looks at Shion's face, so calm and serene. Her eyes flick to the monitors over her head, monitors that uniformly display a lack of activity. She starts to rise, thinking only of getting the nurses, Shion's doctor, anyone, then stops. Who is she to try and force Shion Nys, Godmother of Genesis Station, back to life? She lived to be 236, and up until a few moments ago wasn't just the oldest person Vivian knew, but probably the oldest person in the Solar System. Her time has come, let her go.
Placing Shion's thin hand back on her breast, Vivian stands, blinking in a vain attempt to dispel the tears. She will go and tell the others in a moment, but right now she is still sharing a private moment with her Godmother.
"The Empress is dead," she whispers, "Long may her memory live."
Simon Barr stormed down the corridor to the waiting room where a nurse tried to comfort a crying 14 year old boy. She looked up as he entered and her look of concern deepened as she saw his expression of livid rage.
"Sir, you really" she had no opportunity to finish as he cut her off.
"Get out!" For a moment it seemed she might argue, but then deflated under his burning gaze. He watched her as she scurried out of the room, and then looked back at the boy, now watching him with a face utterly devoid of emotion.
"Do you know what you have done?" The words tearing themselves from his lips.
"Yes." Even as the boy replied, Simon was grabbing the boy by his hair and dragging him upright, glaring into the empty, uncaring eyes.
"Your, Mother! Your own mother, and you... you" trembling violently he could not finish the sentence.
"Four broken ribs, internal bleeding from the kidney and stomach," the boy quiet voice droned the injuries "damage to the"
With an expression of utmost horror, Simon flung the boy from him, sending the frail seeming figure sprawling to the ground and wondered how he could have ended up with this monster for a son.
Back when they had decided to have a child, genetic engineering was beginning a new leap. Customised humans, benefiting from superior DNA, and the strengths it brought where now a real, if illegal, possibility. At the time it had seemed such a good idea. Even when the Doctors had spoken of minor abnormalities, everything had seemed to be going so well. And when the baby was 'born', oh, it was perfect, tears of joy in Harriet's eyes as she held their son for the first time.
It was years before he noticed the problem. A young baby is a selfish creature. You expect it to manipulate you to some extent. It's necessary for survival, a genetic imperative. And if a child of four or five was a bit quiet and seemed to read more than some adults, well, they had paid for him to be smart.
But then one day he had come upon them, Harriet and the boy, playing in the garden and as he watched, the smiling child hugged his mother, and while out of her line of sight, the tiny angelic face changed. All the joy, all the love just faded away, and what was left was as cold and inhuman as the mathematics behind a computer virus.
It was only for a moment, and then the eyes met his own, father and son watching each other as slow realisation spread through them both. Things couldn't be the same anymore, not between them.
He should have told Harriet then and there, but he hadn't. She was so happy that he couldn't bear ruining it for her with probably empty fears. If only they had been empty.
After that day, Isaac had stopped bothering to pretend for his father. They did not speak unless Harriet was around, then they played their parts and Simon hid his worries, hoping all would be well.
"She touched my experiment." The boy had risen from the floor and now stands, facing half away from his father, as Simon flounders in rage and regret. The experiments. Oh yes, those experiments of his. Bits and pieces of electrical gadgetry. They all did something, and once Isaac was done with them and no longer cared, he 'happily' showed them to his mother for her genuine, though uncomprehending, appreciation.
"I...I'll kill you." The words hissed from him, every part of him seemed on fire, burning with the guilt and rage in his veins. He might even have psyched himself up to really do it, had that dead monotone voice not interrupted.
"No. You will not. I have taken care to instill in that nurse an awareness of my fear of you. That you would blame me for this and seek to do me harm. A child in my position would never be held accountable for this, so, if you don't come up with a story soon, well, it will be just me there when mother wakes up. I expect the nurse will be back soon with help, so you don't have long." As he spoke, Isaac turned away fully and walked to the nearby window.
The calm, matter of fact words seemed to leach the strength from the older man, causing him to crumple inwards, the last of his defiance leaving him with the whispered words "I hate you."
Isaac paused, tilting his head in an almost thoughtful fashion before finally replying, "I don't care."
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