Fiction Friday: Dystopia Rising: Evolution

Dystopia Rising

This fiction, “Tell Me About Yourself,” comes from Dystopia Rising: Evolution, currently on Kickstarter!

“Tell me about yourself.”

The woman who spoke to Mila Tierney did not wear anything as fancy as Mila. She did not have a private army. She did not have vast wealth. She certainly did not have a name known among the powerful Pure Bloods, except in whispers and curiosity.

What she did have was a means to get answers from the dead. Mila offered money, and the woman took it of course, but she placed other conditions on her assistance. Most were minor.

This request, however, was the most uncomfortable of all.

The woman peeled back the skin on the body resting on the table in front of her; her child apprentice took notes in the dim light. They did not speak to each other; the woman pointed, and the girl wrote. The girl faded in and out of view on the edges of the operating theater, the sole lantern hanging above the table providing scant illumination. Occasionally, Mila heard others above and to the sides whom she could not see.

“Ms. Tierney, please tell me about yourself.”

“You know who I am,” Mila said, finally turning towards the woman rather than being transfixed by the body in various stages of skin and muscle.

The woman sighed and tilted her head. She wore a mask to conceal the Retrograde features beneath, a polished brass oval with a slit for a mouth and circles for eyes. Edges of her skin were rotten and corpse pallor, but her eyes were the silky blue of the sky and Mila’s sheltered childhood. The woman blinked once, twice, tilted her head again.

“But do you? I don’t ask these questions for idle talk, Ms. Tierney. I am not one to climb your high towers and twirl with soft-handed boys and girls. We are in the middle of a procedure which will give you the answers you seek if you only follow the instructions I gave you. And the instructions I gave you were?”

Mila saw herself in the mask, a funhouse mirror reflection of washed hair and exfoliated skin and painted lips. Her mouth twisted in brass as she answered.

“No matter what question you ask, I am to answer. No matter how simple the question, I am to answer truthfully. And I am not, under any circumstances, to step outside the light.”

Mila watched herself nod in the reflection; she realized it was the woman nodding.

“Good. Tell me about yourself.”

“Mila Tierney, of the Delphian Waste Tierneys. My family is acknowledged by the Lineage League —”

The mouth behind the brass mask hissed at Mila.

“Tell. Me. About. Yourself.”

Mila paused, seeking words and failing to find them. The woman grumbled.

“You are only what others define you as, Ms. Tierney. What is your happiest childhood memory with Tobias?”

Mila braced for the cold which ran over her heart.

“We had a pool.”

“A pool of water?” The woman in the brass mask carefully sawed at the top of the body’s head, blade rasping at bone.

“No, indoors, for swimming. It was ten feet wide by twenty feet long. It was a metal tank which used to hold oil from the time of the oldcesters; my father had the top cut off —”

“I asked about your brother, not your father.”

Mila sighed.

“We weren’t supposed to swim without our guards, but I loved it so much. I snuck away early in the morning to the pool.”

“How old were you?”

The woman stopped sawing, put her tools down. Her apprentice faced Mila, taking notes.

“I was nine.”

“What happened?” The woman stepped forward, uncomfortably close, blue eyes unblinking.

“The ladder broke free. I screamed, fell in the water.”

“Then?”

Mila watched herself tell the tale in the mask.

“It hit me in the head. The ladder was on me. I couldn’t move it.”

“You were frightened?”

Mila lost track of the woman with the mask, turning and nearly colliding with her on the other side. Mila banged into the table.

“Yes…”

“Why?”

“I didn’t want to die.”

The brass mask shook her head. Mila’s chest tightened.

“Why, also?”

“Because my father would know I disobeyed him.”

Her heart squeezed tighter.

“Why, also?”

“Because… because I promised my brother I wouldn’t swim without him.”

Mila felt words pulled from her; they were not just hers any longer.

Mila’s heart beat again, the tightness leaving it. The woman, in a blink, was on the other side of the table.

“My brother pulled me out and took me back to my room.”

“Why was this your happiest memory?”

“Tobias didn’t tell anyone. He was the little brother, but he promised he would always keep me safe and that we would rule the wastes. I was the brave one, everyone said, and he was the sensitive one, and he wasn’t going to take that from me.”

Those words were no longer hers either.

“If you had died, he would have been next in line. But he saved you.”

“Yes.”

“And you trusted him from that moment?”

“With my life. My heart.”

“Good,” the woman in the mask said.

Lights flared, the single lantern glow replaced by dim electric lights amplified with polished metal and mirrors. It was an operating theater, rows and rows of empty seats and broken tiles ringed with crystals and fungus. Again, Mila Tierney was the confident and powerful Pure Blood Mayor of Philly Del Phia, not a scared drowning girl.

The Mütter, wrapped in robes, her rent and torn flesh covered and concealed, resumed her place in society as an oddity. A Graverobber, one who bridges life and death.

“I will have an answer in a day,” the Mütter said. “He should trust me, now that you shared that moment no one else knows. Feel free to stop by the gift shop on your way out.”

“Who are you going to ask?”

The Mütter paused, her eyes blinking abnormally long.

“Why, who else should I ask but your thrice-murdered brother?”